Habits of Mind

It’s not enough to be smart

Published by Lori Pickert on January 23, 2013 at 09:38 AM

From the HBR blog:

It’s not easy to live up to your fullest potential. There are so many obstacles that can get in the way: bosses that don’t appreciate what you have to offer, tedious projects that take up too much of your time, economies where job opportunities are scarce, the difficulty of juggling career, family, and personal goals.

But smart, talented people rarely realize that one of the toughest hurdles they’ll have to overcome lies within.

Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.

The kind of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children has a major impact on the implicit beliefs we develop about our abilities — including whether we see them as innate and unchangeable, or as capable of developing through effort and practice. … Incidentally, this is particularly true for women.

We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because bright kids are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be adults who are far too hard on themselves — adults who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

How often have you found yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe, sticking to goals you knew would be easy for you to reach? Are there things you decided long ago that you could never be good at? Skills you believed you would never possess? If the list is a long one, you were probably one of the bright kids — and your belief that you are “stuck” being exactly as you are has done more to determine the course of your life than you probably ever imagined. — The Trouble with Bright Kids

Being smart — even gifted — isn’t a magical key to success. Each of our children is a unique bundle of gifts, talents, interests, and issues. Being brilliant in one area doesn’t mean they’re all set. Struggling in one area doesn’t mean their life should revolve around their deficit. Each of them needs to be met where they are and helped to life a full, authentic life.

What we say, what we offer, and how we support them makes a difference. We can create circumstances in which they will define themselves — for life — as learners, makers, doers, problem-solvers.

Think about the life that your child lives, how he spends his day, what he spends his day doing, and who he does it with. Does he feel in control? Does he do things that matter? Does he effect change? Does he participate in something larger than himself that has meaning? Is he connecting with his interests, his talents, and his purpose?

Is some small part of his day dedicated to digging deeper into his own interests and figuring out how he can contribute to the world he lives in?

Much of our children’s lives are out of their control — but I would argue that those parts where they are in control are where they are doing the deepest learning and the deepest character formation. That’s where they are acquiring habits of mind — traits that will help or hinder them on their life’s journey.

We all need practice becoming who we are. Let’s make sure our kids get to live lives that aren’t entirely controlled, decided, narrated, annotated, evaluated, and judged by someone else.

hat tip to Deirdre 

Educational goals and long-term thinking

Published by Lori Pickert on December 8, 2012 at 11:32 AM

 

“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that." — The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking @ 99U

Part of the problem with how we think about children and learning is our focus on very short periods of time.

If you prioritize a “well-rounded education,” you have to preplan everything, label it, chop it up into smallish chunks, and then distribute it across the time you’ve allotted — usually a nine-month school year.

If you have to fragment your learning goals and pour them into your schedule first, then you will have a difficult time fitting in a self-directed, long-term project.

If self-directed learning is a goal, you have to fit that big rock in first. Set aside the idea of a nine-month “school year” and forget about artificially separating out subject areas (history, literature, science). Prioritize slow learning. Focus on holistic learning. Instead of requiring X amount of a certain subject area each week/month/year, measure it over a more generous period of time — say, two or three years. Look at your child’s long-term project work (no planning ahead) and make your authentic assessment then:

What was read?

What was written?

What experiments were planned?

What knowledge was gathered?

What was built/created?

What was shared?

What habits were formed?

What learning was accomplished?

You may find your child is getting a balanced educational diet and requires very little adult-directed supplementation. But you won’t know unless you try. And it requires a leap of faith: a belief that child-directed learning is complex, multilayered, and inherently multidisciplinary.

Investing in your child’s education and taking a long view — giving them time to grow and develop interests, ideas, and plans over months and even years — allows your child to achieve something most schoolchildren never experience: deep, authentic engagement.

There are three levels of learning in project-based homeschooling:

- learning about our topic (primary)

- acquiring the skills we need to meet short-term goals (secondary), and

- developing the habits of mind that help us solve problems, communicate, think flexibly, and so on (tertiary).

One way we can help our children get to those deeper levels is by developing a long-term mindset toward meeting authentic learning goals.

The short-term, preplanned, fragmented form of education was created to fit a particular schedule. Once you break free from that schedule, you can hack that method of learning as well. Living a learning life means you have the freedom and time to fill it with something more meaningful.

You are the best predictor of your child’s future life

Published by Lori Pickert on December 3, 2012 at 04:37 PM

 

The best way to increase the odds that your child will live a certain way is to live that way yourself. The best way to raise readers is to read. The best way to raise doers is to do.

The best way to raise active, engaged learners is to be an active, engaged learner. Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?” — Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Are you nurturing the traits within yourself that you want your children to have?

Critique with children

Published by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2012 at 10:25 AM

 

Critique can be a valuable experience that even very young children can participate in (although we may not call it critique). When my school’s preschool students (age 3 and 4) shared their work with their classmates (a daily occurrence), they would explain what they had made, then they would ask for “questions, comments, or suggestions.”

The other students would then raise their hands, and the presenter would call on them. They could ask questions about the work. “Why did you put that part on?” They could make comments. “I like how you made the ladder.” They could make suggestions. “I think you should make that part yellow instead.”

The presenter would then respond to them. “I put that there because…” “Thank you.” “I might do that” or “No, thank you.” It was up to them whether they wanted to consider taking someone’s suggestion; if they didn’t want to, they needed to politely say, “no, thank you.” If the child said she did want to make some addition or change to her work, the teacher would note that on a post-it so it would be remembered the next day.

Critique is not only for sharing and talking about works of art — it can be used for sharing any kind of project work.

Sharing your work with others is a crucial part of project-based homeschooling. We really know something when we can explain it or teach it to someone else. And it’s important to make a contribution to the community. When we are working on our projects, we draw on community resources (museums, universities, libraries) and other people (experts, community members, librarians, etc.). When we produce work and share it with others, we are making our own contribution. We give as well as take; we’re part of the big conversation.

We started doing critiques with older children when we had a summer photography class. Much like the preschool class, the students would stand up in front of the group and show their work (first choosing the pieces they wanted to share — narrowing down their work was the first step), talk about it, and answer questions.

Parts of critique that are very useful for a child to learn/experience:

- sharing your work with others — beginning to think about the person who is seeing/hearing/experiencing your work

- beginning to anticipate your audience’s reaction while you are creating

- thinking about someone else’s point of view

- thinking about why you made the choices you did

- thinking about your own process: putting it into words

- thinking about accidental discoveries as well as deliberate choices

- articulating what you think and feel about someone else’s work

- learning to say something helpful — not necessarily about what you prefer, but to help the other person achieve his goal — learning to make good suggestions

- asking good, meaningful questions; making relevant observations

You can lead a critique like this with any group, maybe even siblings — but it is a learned skill. Children have to learn to make useful, meaningful comments, and they have to learn how to respond calmly and politely to the suggestions of others. Commit to doing it on a regular basis, and you give them the chance to develop those skills.

Tips:

- let the child control the process — speaking first, calling on people

- start by having them share their work, their intentions, their plans

- prompting “comments, questions, or suggestions” reminds them of what is useful to share

- don’t allow negative comments

We start laying the groundwork for critique when we talk to children meaningfully about their work. This can start when your children are very small.

Ask questions like

- What did you make/do?

- Why did you want to make/do this?

- What do you like about it?

- Did you have any problems?

- Is there anything more you want to do with this?

- Is there anything you want to add?

- Is there anything you want to change?

- Why did you decide to do X here? (Encourage them to explain their choices.)

When you talk to your child about his work, you encourage him to think about it more deeply.

You don’t need to save critique for when a work is finished. Sharing what they’ve made, talking about their work and plans, listening to what their peers have to say — all of things are helpful to a child who is in the midst of a work-in-progress. They firm up their own ideas and can decide whether to incorporate the suggestions of others. They pause while making to consider their plans, which may help make their plans more complex.

In this kind of active learning community, children learn to share ideas, think about their choices, help others with their projects, and seek out other opinions when they get stuck.

They learn to collaborate to solve problems, brainstorm possibilities, and look more deeply into their own decisions and the decisions of others.

Yes, the art teacher is the teacher, but a creative studio art teacher is confident enough to NOT make suggestions. Teachers model empathic critique expressing affirmative curiosity. They phrase open questions that focus thinking and allow a diversity of student responses. Students learn to learn to be their own decider in art. The creative teacher coaches students to experiment and find out for themselves what works by empathically asking each other what they see, why it produces the effect, what they think it means, and what purpose they see for the work. The creative coach encourages teamwork and student ownership by deferring to students for their input. The teacher develops student participation by affirming the phrasing of good open questions. …

We increase our learning when the questions build awareness and call attention to discoveries. Creative work always includes unintended outcomes and consequences. We find them. We use them. We build knowledge. We become artistic. Empathic critique is a commonly used skill for a successful artist and a successful life. — Marvin Bartel

 

Abilities vs. activities: Why children need authentic art

Published by Lori Pickert on September 29, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Penelope Trunk wrote about my book this week and she said this:

I am very achievement oriented, so I see no point in a project that does not come with a big achievement at the end. Pickert's book is more small-scale and reasonable — like doing art projects

Penelope got it wrong in a few ways. One, projects are not “small-scale and reasonable,” even when done by three- and four-year-olds. A group of preschool-age children at my private school did a year-long project during which they wrote books, created posters, wrote and performed skits, made a roomful of models, built props, painted a mural, painted some large canvases, identified and labeled and organized seashells and deep-sea life, built a child-size boat with authentic details, created a ocean habitat that filled a stage, took multiple field trips, and on and on and on. That’s not small scale. And those were very young children.

Two, project work is all about achievement — but the achievement is defined by the one doing the work. The work is owned by the child, controlled and directed by the child, and assessed by the child. It’s not judged from the outside; the child develops the ability to assess his own work. A young child who sets himself to a task and meets his own self-set goals feels authentic achievement. There is a world of difference between receiving approval from someone else and feeling confidence and satisfaction from within. Project-based homeschooling focuses on the latter.

Finally, you cannot dismiss the importance of becoming fluent in authentic art as “art projects.”

Authentic art is of crucial importance for young children. They are not yet able to read or write fluently. Authentic art enables children to work actively with knowledge and build thinking, learning, and communication skills.

They learn while they create two- and three-dimensional representations. The act of creating, say, a physical model of a Mars rover allows them to examine photos, listen to books and news articles being read aloud, incorporate details they understand, compare their work to the work of their friends, and add new details as they understand them, as well as mastering the art medium itself: learning how to build a construction, how to make the wheels really turn, how to choose the best material for each detail, how to apply paint and glue, how to fix their mistakes and solve problems, and so on.

They express what they know. What they make reveals their understandings, their questions, their ideas. Talking to a young child, you can get an idea of what they know and understand; watching them create two- and three-dimensional art reveals much, much more. Art is an additional way for them to communicate; this is why Reggio treats each different art medium as a language.

They figure out what they don’t understand. As they draw, paint, model in clay, and build constructions out of cardboard and wire and papier-maché, they come across details that elicit questions. They find out what they don’t know. As they share their work with others, their peers’ and family members’ questions and comments reveal their knowledge and the holes in that knowledge. This process continually moves them to deepen their understanding until they become experts.

As children get older, they can add writing to their list of ways to communicate what they know. They can write stories and books, they can blog and podcast, they can create websites and wikis and films. This is, again, not “small-scale and reasonable” — this is real, authentic work done by someone who wants to know and understand and communicate with other people.

Education should be a ramp that takes a child from age 3 to adulthood. To respect that a small child is full of ideas that deserve to be shared means allowing them a multitude of ways to express themselves — authentic art and dramatic play included. As the child grows in ability and skills, he will fold in reading, writing, and technology. It should be a smooth transition, layering skills upon skills so that a child who is 13 is expressing his ideas and questions and opinions in the same way he was at age 3, but with new tools. The work he did at 3 helps him do the work he is capable of at 13.

Instead of crafts, children need to become fluent at expressing their ideas through authentic art. They will acquire real skills and abilities — not just how to paint, but how to express an idea clearly; not just how to sculpt, but how to make a plan and execute it. Compare this to the typical crafts that are offered to children — “cute” activities that keep kids occupied and produce an expected outcome. “Here’s what it’s supposed to look like” does not inspire the kind of creative expression and pride in accomplishment that authentic art offers. “Here’s how you do it” does not lead to meaningful planning or problem-solving. We need to spend less time preparing children’s activities and more time building up their abilities.

Many adults have a dismissive attitude toward the work children do. They can’t tell the difference between a piece of authentic, creative work that expresses an idea and a handprint turkey. To understand this requires getting on the child’s level and endeavoring to understand his thought processes, his questions, his ideas. It requires giving up your own ideas about what he should do and asking him what he wants to do. If you don’t believe children are capable of deep thought and hard work, it’s doubtful you’ll make the effort to see what they can do when allowed to make their own decisions, let alone what they can do when they are mentored and supported.

We have to commit to learning what our children can do. We can set them to a series of tasks or we can help them forge their own path. We can keep them busy with activities or we can help them build up their abilities. We can keep thinking of them as pre-adults or we can learn to respect them as strong and capable of building their own knowledge. It’s our choice. Our children will fit themselves to our expectations. They will see themselves the way we see them. So we should look as closely at possible — at them and at ourselves.

Perseverance and grit vs. knowing when to quit

Published by Lori Pickert on September 21, 2012 at 08:31 AM

In my book, I write about the importance of teaching your kids how to finish.

Many adults, let alone children, stall in the information-gathering stage of a project. They keep collecting inspiration and ideas without ever moving forward to the point of making something of their own. Forget about finishing — they can’t start.

Finishing is a key skill. The beginning part of a project is the least difficult and often the most fun. There are materials to buy and inspirational photos to look at. The middle is when things get harder. And sometimes we never make it past the middle. Everything gets shoved into a bag and then into the back of a closet, and we move on to another fun beginning.

Perseverance and grit are key traits for successful people. But prioritizing learning how to finish doesn’t mean you never, ever quit anything. An equally important skill is figuring out when it’s okay to not finish.

If we determine to never, ever quit anything, ever, then we will spend a lot of our time just gritting our teeth and stumping to the end of something we wish we’d never started in the first place. There’s probably not a lot of useful learning there. You can’t get where you want to go if you spend months trudging in the wrong direction after you figured out long ago you turned left when you should have turned right.

Good quitting requires

- being able to admit you made a mistake.

- recognizing when the path you’re on isn’t taking you where you want to go.

- being able to let go of the time and effort you’ve put in.

- accepting new information that changes your old plan.

- acknowledging you aren’t getting the results you were after.

- realizing you have better options.

So how do we balance the importance of finishing with knowing when to quit?

Persistence and fulfilling your commitments are character traits that are very important to most parents. We want our kids to go the distance. We want them to stick it out when the going gets tough. We want them to be determined, and we want them to meet their commitments. These are all good traits to have, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. What if our kids are in a bad relationship? What if their coach is destroying their love for a sport?

Do we want our kids to learn that if they start something, we will always make them stick with it — so maybe it’s better not to start, so you don’t end up doing something for months that you don’t enjoy? With all due respect to Tiger Mom, you’re not teaching kids persistence forcing them to complete something *you* want them to do. Perseverance and grit are traits that come from the inside. If someone else is making you persist, then you’re not developing persistence any more than a person being dragged by a rope is learning to walk. 

We need to learn to find our way — through exploring, through experience — to the richest areas for potential growth. This may require adjusting your sails, reworking your plan, replanning your route. We need the freedom and flexibility to shift to a path that’s going to give us a better outcome. This is a learned skill and an equally valuable trait: learning when to cut your losses, being able to recognize a better opportunity.

There is good and bad persistence. Good persistence allows you to forge ahead through difficulties to accomplish what you set out to do. Bad persistence keeps you on a nonproductive course because you can’t bring yourself to admit you made a mistake. You don’t want to lose the time and money you’ve already invested, so you end up losing more. It’s important to learn the difference between the two. It’s important to learn how to examine what’s happening and determine whether it’s in your best interest to stick with what you’re doing … or quit. And if quitting is the best course, then it takes just as much strength of character to make that call as to stick with a path that’s taking you in a direction you don’t really want to go.

 

Teaching perseverance and grit

Published by Lori Pickert on September 16, 2012 at 02:03 PM

How will your child weather the storms of life?

We’ve talked before on the blog about the importance of character traits. This is something that was a hard sell when I had my private school. Parents wanted grades. They wanted to know how their child ranked against the others in the class. They wanted a measurement, a reassurance that their child was literally “making the grade.” 

We developed an authentic assessment that included a list of habits of mind — traits we wanted to help the children develop. They included things like “accepts consequences for their actions,” “is willing to change ideas in light of new evidence (flexibility),” “asks good, meaningful, worthwhile questions,” and “stands by beliefs against a crowd.”

But most parents weren’t interested. They wanted a number, a letter, something that said my child is here and the other children are here.

Cognitive skill and IQ make a big difference. Vocabulary matters. But the scientists, the economists, the neuroscientists and psychologists who’ve been studying this and writing about it are really challenging the idea that IQ and standardized test scores are the most important thing in a child’s success.

There’s lots of evidence out there now that says that these other strengths, these character strengths or non-cognitive skills, are at least as important to a child’s success and quite possibly more important. But right now we’ve got an education system that really doesn’t pay attention to those skills at all. We’re very good at trying to build those cognitive skills, but most kids need a whole lot more to succeed. …

Schools just aren’t set up right now to try to develop things like grit and perseverance and curiosity. I think especially in a world where we are more and more focused on standardized tests that measure a pretty narrow range of cognitive skills, teachers are less incentivized to think about how to develop those skills in kids. — Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Angela Duckworth did a TED talk entitled “True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught?” The talk is interesting and worth listening to, but the question posted in the title is never answered. It’s an open question. Can we teach perseverance? She ends by saying, whatever it is we need to do to help kids develop this quality, we need to figure it out and do it.

Can we teach perseverance and grit? Is that something that fits into a curriculum? I’m reminded of a teacher who worked for me who tried to teach the children, very gently, how to improve their character at school — how to share, not tell lies, be good friends, and so on. She did this by enacting, at the end of each preschool class, a little puppet show that would highlight an incident that had occurred earlier that day. One puppet stole a toy from another or said something mean that made his friend cry. The children loved this. They ate it up. They booed the bad puppet. Did they see themselves in the story? Not even when it repeated things they had said and done to the letter.

Can we create a lesson that will somehow magically impart these important character traits that children need to succeed? If we could, wouldn’t we have done it already?

I do believe we can create circumstances under which children can more easily acquire and strenghten those traits. We have to let them pursue work that is meaningful to them. We have to let them set their own goals, and we have to support them and help them work through setbacks as they strive to meet those goals. We have to make it okay to fail and make mistakes. The environment we create can either help or hinder them. Our choices are crucially important.

In an interview on NPR, Paul Tough says that when children are very bonded with their parents, especially early in life, they develop psychological strength, confidence, and character that makes a huge difference in their success in school and on into adulthood. But love and affection are only part of the equation. It’s equally important that when children get a little older — as young as two or three years old — their parents have to make sure they have the opportunity to be independent, to be challenged.

Of course, when I read that, I think of project-based homeschooling. We need to love and support our kids, but we also need to create the circumstances under which they can do their own meaningful work. We need to help them make that work challenging and rigorous. We need to facilitate, but we need to let them fail.

We don’t need to worry about teaching our kids perseverance and grit. We just need to make it possible for them to learn it on their own.

Living in an age of innovation and uncertainty

Published by Lori Pickert on December 14, 2011 at 02:36 PM

Risk takers seem to have an almost uncontrollable urge to go beyond established limits. They are uneasy about comfort; they live on the edge of their competence. They seem compelled to place themselves in situations in which they do not know what the outcome will be. They accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure as part of the normal process, and they learn to view setbacks as interesting, challenging, and growth producing. However, responsible risk takers do not behave impulsively. Their risks are educated. They draw on past knowledge, are thoughtful about consequences, and have a well-trained sense of what is appropriate. They know that all risks are not worth taking.

Risk takers can be considered in two categories: those who see the risk as a venture and those who see it as adventure. The venture part of risk taking might be described in terms of what a venture capitalist does. When a person is approached to take the risk of investing in a new business, she will look at the markets, see how well organized the ideas are, and study the economic projections. If she finally decides to take the risk, it is a well-considered one.

The adventure part of risk taking might be described by the experiences from Project Adventure. In this situation, there is a spontaneity, a willingness to take a chance in the moment. Once again, a person will take the chance only if experiences suggest that the action will not be life threatening or if he believes that group support will protect him from harm (e.g., checking out the dimensions of weight, distance, and strength of a bungee cord before agreeing to the exhilaration of a drop). Ultimately, people learn from such high-risk experiences that they are far more able to take actions than they previously believed. Risk taking becomes educated only through repeated experiences. It often is a cross between intuition, drawing on past knowledge, striving for precision and accuracy, and a sense of meeting new challenges.

Bobby Jindal, then executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, stated, “The only way to succeed is to be brave enough to risk failure” (Briggs, 1999, p. 2A). When people hold back from taking risks, they miss opportunities. Some students seem reluctant to take risks. They hold back from games, new learning, and new friendships because their fear of failure is far greater than their desire for venture or adventure. They are reinforced by the mental voice that says, “If you don’t try it, you won’t be wrong,” or “If you try it and you are wrong, you will look stupid.” The other voice that might say, “If you don’t try it, you will never know,” is trapped by fear and mistrust. These students are more interested in knowing whether their answer is correct or not than in being challenged by the process of finding the answer. They are unable to sustain a process of problem solving and finding the answer over time, and therefore they avoid ambiguous situations. They have a need for certainty rather than an inclination for doubt.

We hope that students will learn how to take intellectual as well as physical risks. Students who are capable of being different, going against the grain of common thinking, and thinking of new ideas (testing them with peers and teachers) are more likely to be successful in an age of innovation and uncertainty. — Arthur L. Costa, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success

It’s almost resolution time. Are you going to be taking any risks this year? What about your kids?

How do you keep fear of failure from holding you back?

 

Raising entrepreneurs: Risk tolerance

Published by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2011 at 02:41 AM

When I was in the early years of running my first business, I hung a bulletin board right beside me at my desk. On it I had three things: a graph showing compound interest on savings, a page torn from the Whole Earth Review with a quote by Helen Keller, and a tiny quiz “Could You Be an Entrepreneur?” torn from a business magazine.

I had failed the quiz.

I remember specifically that the accompanying article said I should be very organized and I absolutely was not. Yesterday I took a quiz on forbes.com that would gauge whether or not I should be an entrepreneur. It’s too late for me to heed anyone else’s advice — but I was heartened to get a decent score this time. Apparently, I’m only held back by my disorganization and the fact that I would jump the gun and start working on a project without a signed contract.

Could you be an entrepreneur? Could your child be an entrepreneur? A business owner? A freelancer? There may be natural traits that would lead one in that direction, but there are also skills you can develop by having the right sorts of learning experiences.

Risk tolerance is an oft-discussed entrepreneurial trait, but it’s frequently misunderstood. Risk tolerance doesn’t mean craving risk. It doesn’t mean entrepreneurs are danger junkies, like extreme sports fanatics who snowboard avalanches. Far from it — entrepreneurs want to make good decisions. They’re just willing to take calculated risks when they’re confident those risks have a good chance of paying off.

That willingness to take a risk is key.

Successful entrepreneurs are masters of taking good risks. They’re willing to bet on themselves.

If we accept that our children will be entrepreneurs in the future — CEOs of their work lives, if nothing else — how do we help them develop the confidence to believe in their ideas?

Is your child comfortable marching to the beat of a different drummer? Is he able to break free from the crowd to go his own way?

Investors need to be able to tolerate risk in order to reap rewards. Those who can’t tolerate risk will stick to the safest investments and therefore earn the least amount of return; over time, their nervousness will have a cumulative effect on what they’re able to accomplish. Successful investors — and entrepreneurs — can weigh options and take appropriate risks. They can get in the game — and you can’t win if you don’t play.

Investors must have the mental fortitude to ride out the ups and downs of the market. Likewise, entrepreneurs must have the fortitude to ride out the ups and downs of running a business. The reason that corporations take more of the profit share than employees is because they shoulder most of the risk. When times are hard, the employee who might find himself out of a job — the corporation keeps going. Shouldering the risk and taking on the responsibility gives you the decision power and the control. (Whether corporations wield their power responsibly is a whole other topic.)

Warren Buffett famously advised that an investor should “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” The entrepreneur is someone who essentially invests in himself. He has to be willing to take a right when everyone else is going left. When the economy is down and people are most fearful, an entrepreneur will start a new business. He sees opportunity where others only see risk. When the economy swings up again, the entrepreneur is poised to make the most of it. 

How do we help our children develop a tolerance for taking risks?

  1. We let them make mistakes, and we let them know mistakes are unavoidable when you’re doing any kind of significant work. We encourage resilience and confident problem-solving.
  2. We give them time to explore and experiment. We invest in their interests and passions.
  3. We don’t get in the way. We let them own their own work, their ideas, and their successes.
  4. We praise them for being strivers and problem-solvers rather than geniuses.
  5. We help them reflect on their choices and the outcomes. We help them connect the dots: effort, mistakes, persistence, resilience. We develop a family culture that celebrates doing, making, learning, and growing.

The most important thing about risk tolerance is that your child doesn’t let a fear of failure hold him back from working to make his ideas happen. He’s willing to invest in his own ideas. He’s willing to invest in himself.

The quote:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller

It takes energy to conform

Published by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 01:55 PM

The scientists took a large group of undergraduates and randomly assigned them to two different groups. The first group was given the following instructions:

“You are 7 years old. School is canceled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?”

The second group was given the exact same instructions, except the first sentence was deleted. As a result, these students didn’t imagine themselves as 7 year olds. They were stuck in their adolescent present.

After writing for ten minutes, the subjects were then given various tests of creativity, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire, or completing incomplete sketches… Interestingly, the students who imagined themselves as little kids scored far higher on the creative tasks, coming up with more ideas that were also more original.

As the brain develops, the prefrontal cortex expands in density and volume. As a result, we’re able to exhibit impulse control and focused attention. The unfortunate side-effect of this cortical growth is an increased ability to repress errant thoughts. While many of these thoughts deserve to be suppressed, it turns out that we also censor the imagination. We’re so scared of saying the wrong thing that we end up saying nothing at all.

[T]he “fourth grade slump” in creativity that Lehrer refers to above — children experience a marked decline in creative powers around that age — is thought to be the result of the increased social obligations they assume at that stage of life. As kids devote more energy to conforming to the group, there’s less available for being their freewheeling selves. Creativity for Introverts, Psychology Today

Without the intense pressure to conform, many homeschooled/unschooled kids have the opportunity to stay more in touch with their own, freewheeling selves. They’re not too scared to express themselves; they don’t have to censor their imagination.

If we adults manage to stay away from the cliques and groups that would pressure us to conform, maybe we, too, can tap into our third-grade selves.

How much energy are we wasting on conforming instead of creating?

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