Welcome back to our blog series on Kids & The Happiness Advantage, inspired by the seven principles of happiness, as outlined by Shawn Achor in The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life.
Last week we shared ways in which we could help our kids and other children in our lives retrain their bright minds to foster more positive thinking. This week, we will take a look at the second principle of The Happiness Advantage, The Fulcrum and the Lever: Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset.
Imagine, if you will, you are at a park. As you search the playground, you spot a seesaw. Loved by kids of all ages, the seesaw, while fun and entertaining, is also the perfect example of how a fulcrum and lever system work. In this example, the longboard on which two kids sit is the lever. The pivot point, usually at the center of the lever, is the fulcrum. Childhood experience tells us that if both friends sitting on the seesaw are equal in weight, the seesaw will balance. When one friend is heavier than the other, however, the lighter friend will hang in the air until the heavier friend pushes off the ground with their legs or jumps off completely. So long as the fulcrum is placed at the center of the lever, and both friends play nicely, each child can enjoy the easy flow of rising up and floating down.
What makes this playful act possible is the position of the fulcrum. When placed in the center of the lever, we achieve balance. However, the closer we move the center point (fulcrum) to the heavier side, the easier that side is to lift. So how might this apply to our happiness and more positive thinking? Here’s how: our brains work the same way! The amount of power we believe we have is our lever and our mindset is the fulcrum. The more we move our fulcrum towards a positive mindset, the longer our lever of power and potential becomes. The longer our lever of potential...the more power we believe we have to change what is possible. This is the essence of The Fulcrum and the Lever.
Kids love to feel powerful. Who doesn’t? The more power we can give back to them, the more able they are to feel in control of their circumstances, actions, and outlook on life.
So, how can we work with our youth to shift their fulcrum towards a positive mindset and feel in control of all that is possible?
Speak using positive keywords - sometimes all it takes to alter a person’s mindset, which in turn can alter behavior, is a positive tone and a few kind, encouraging words. (This is also a great tip for yourself!) Let your child know you have faith in their abilities. Don’t be shy about cheering them on! Prime them for excellence.
Believe in their power - this is known as the Pygmalion Effect. What we believe about a person’s potential can bring that potential to life. (Wild, right?!) Achor talks about this in his book. In short, the expectations we have about our children -- regardless of them ever being stated out loud -- can make that expectation a reality.
Talk about realistic expectations - yes, it’s important to have big dreams and to use our imagination to see what is possible, but there is also a time and place for a reality check. While our mindset is responsible for so much of what we experience and achieve, there are still tangible limits and impossibilities. For example, my son would love nothing more in the world than to be a dinosaur. But unfortunately, we know that simply is not possible. The key here is to encourage kids to explore and push the limits of possibility as far as the limits can go. What we don’t want to do is tell them limiting stories about where they should go. In the example about my son, instead of discouraging him by explaining all the reasons why he will never be a dinosaur, we honor that science does not allow for humans to morph into animals in real life, but that on Halloween, all bets are off! Or, while he can’t be a dinosaur in real life, he could always become a paleontologist and explore the realm of dinosaurs through that (or another) career path.
What are some ways you’ve helped the children in your life adjust their mindset to help them take ownership of their potential? We welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments below or hop over to our book club page to join the discussion there!