Parenting and Flexibility2

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Firstly, I don’t have a monopoly on parenting expertise. Or claim to have all the answers on good parenting. However I do have 13 years of experience of hands-on parenting that includes; parenting step-children, parenting step-children who grew up in another country and parenting three genders.

What might be interesting is to look at parenting through the lens of flexibility, to see if a fresh perspective might help some of today’s parents with some of today’s parenting challenges.

In the business and not for profit world, culture & policies blend with goals & support functions. You might think of it as ‘setting the tone’, mingling with ‘setting the scene’. In parenting, setting the tone and setting the scene are also important.

Setting the tone in a family is arguably about setting some kind of structure, responsibilities and boundaries. As well as providing guidance from those in charge. The family comes to develop some kind of family-level ethics and values, typically involving loyalty to the family. And one family member representing the rest at various events. The family is seen as bigger than any one member. Setting the tone doesn’t involve spending money, so much as intervening at the appropriate time with the appropriate message.

Setting the scene includes making commitments, often involving parents giving time & money to create an environment for the children to develop in. An extension of this is when parents choose to entrust the education of their children to a school and its teachers. Parents typically also tell their children that they are available at short notice. Whenever the children face a problem beyond their control.

How does all this relate to flexibility? Firstly kids love flexibility. Especially where they benefit directly from it. Real life requires some level of flexibility from parents too. Situations arise on a scale of serious to trivial. Life threatening to minor. Formal to informal. Urgent to non urgent.

One idea in a two parent active family (active parenting by both parents), is to alternate the roles of setting the tone and setting the scene between the two parents. Why? Through alternating the roles, there is more scope for consistency. And if one parent is absent, the other can perform either ‘setting’ role more confidently.

A final thought. Can parenting be enriched by pairing up all nine combinations of setting the tone (ethics, structure and mentoring) with setting the scene (scope, sponsorship and logistics)? For example, can the parents emphasise family ethics and parental logistics together? Or family structure and parental scope together? In other words if delivering a serious, dry message on tone, balance it with a more positive message on setting the scene as well. At worst, it will deliver fresh, rounded messages to the kids. At best it will strengthen the pace of their development.

Simon

Failure and Flexibility

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Failing at things, when you think more flexibly, is probably the best example of negative events transforming into positive growth.

The taste of sour or bitter is ok, if you breeze past it. And think of it as foretaste, not aftertaste. As for eating lemon cake.

A Daily Experience

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We all have stressful experiences and moments of uncertainty. Just this week, I accidently left my briefcase (satchel) on the overhead rack on a train.  No doubt, for the passengers who stayed on the train after I departed, it must have been stressful for them too, seeing an unattended bag with no obvious owner.

When we experience stress, having ‘coping reserves’ of patience & energy, as well as listening to our inner voice that is encouraging us to persevere and not panic, can help. Those are all intangible forms of coping reserves.

What about more tangible reserves to help us cope? If we choose to develop various reserves of personal flexibility, ones we can see, such as a duplicate wallet, a large bank balance, a credit card, a house key hidden in the garden (in case we lock ourselves out side by mistake), a car that we can drive to work should the train system fail, a few valuables we can sell if we have to, a trusted set of friends, they can all be an important way to cope too.

Personal flexibility (PFL) isn’t generally a product you can buy at the local store. Instead, it’s a form of strength you hold. Some people pay good money to do weight training at the gym. They are essentially buying an exercise programme that leads to strength and fitness. With that strength helping them weather uncertainty, look good and feel better about themselves. Other people pay for professional therapy to improve their emotional strength. Political lobbyists essentially win or buy influence from politicians.  Some people upskill and pay for advanced education, to improve their chances of future employment, professional success and promotion. In summary, PFL is valuable as a means to an end.

Can personal flexibility help us in other ways too? We can be happy on the surface, if we never challenge ourselves, or take a risk. To be happy beneath the surface likely involves moving out of our comfort zone.  Taking some calculated risks. Accepting that we may stumble. And that we may have to do the equivalent of kissing a few frogs to find a prince. What goes with that more colourful life journey, is success defined in our own terms. In other words, to become happy beneath the surface, we may have to redefine what happiness is, including;

  • being happy about simple things,
  • being happy about small, incremental victories,
  • being happy for other people,
  • the journey making us happy, not just the destination making us happy.

If other people’s inflexibility makes us annoyed or unhappy, can we counter that with our own flexibility instead? One way is having enough PFL to avoid their inflexibility. Another is to use our PFL to moderate their inflexibility. A simple example is where various companies use crowd management techniques– making us wait in lines or queues for something. Corralling us is their inflexibility to cope, translating into inflexibility for us on our speed and direction. We can moderate this by using our waiting time constructively – using our smartphone to research or learn something while we wait.

A final thought. What would our lives be like if, each day we tried to actively manage our reserves of personal flexibility? It would likely involve monitoring which bits we are losing (or cashing in) and actively finding replacement forms of PFL, for those PFL things lost.

With growing PFL, we may feel happier and more confident. Better able to cope with uncertainty. And more able to grow as people. What do you think?

Simon

Personal Biases and Personal Flexibility

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Once bitten twice shy. Do our various biases hold us back from trying again? Is more personal flexibility (PFL) the best medicine for our biases?

Our mental architecture (the neural pathways in our brains) might favour strengthening various well-worn pathways, as a coping mechanism for the daily onslaught of sensory information we face.

• We sample what is convenient & comfortable to sample (selection bias).
• We notice the things that confirm the views we already hold (confirmation bias).
• We like to associate with those like ourselves (group or ‘me too’ bias).
• We over-estimate how soon improvements happen, but under-estimate their impact (judgement bias).
• We leap into action at the first opportunity, telling ourselves we should be more spontaneous and that it makes us look more powerful, by being decisive (action bias).

Then there are a load of other biases that (biased?) psychologists tell us we suffer from.
There are so many biases swirling around, it’s a wonder we achieve anything useful, ever! That said, can personal flexibility (PFL) help us counter, or at least moderate our biases? And if so, what form might that PFL usefully take?

1. Holding two opposing views at the same time is one form of PFL. Less a case of madness. More a case of seeing the merits of both sides of an argument. More strange still, our opposing views can happen implicitly – the risk aversion bias many of us have (to trying new things in case they don’t work out), works against a risk-minimising strategy of diversification (not putting all your eggs in one basket).

2. Forcing ourselves to take a second, more considered look is another PFL technique. For example, looking at a radical painting in an art gallery to think more about the artist’s message to the viewer. Or in the animal kingdom, a shark circling its potential prey, is partly waiting for more information.

Simon

Help Wanted Ad – Personal Flexibility

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Thriving planet with unlimited potential for great ideas, invites applications from interested candidates.

Essential Criteria:
Must be 100% human, with creases and scars to prove it.

Must have a strong self-belief, without being delusional.

Must see being flexible & practising flexible thinking as a calling. Not a chore.

Must be willing at interview to provide examples of how has used the principle of flexibility to solve numerous real-life problems. Ones involving tired, grumpy children, over-critical mother in laws, commuter transport strikes, natural disasters. Poor internet connection. And being accused unfairly of flatulence in a public elevator space.

Must be able to appreciate that although crowds of people can create stress, they also represent a talented collection of colourful, amazing human beings.

Desirable Criteria:
Able to make friends with time, any bank manager and a glass that is half empty.

Able to handle sporting upsets involving your favourite team.

Able to cope with the occasional wet day, when you left your umbrella at home.

Looks at problems both as problems and opportunities.

Isn’t a perfectionist.

Can look in the mirror and like what they see.

Apply within.

Simon

Upskilling and Personal Flexibility

‘The idea of Juilliard was that it would give you this toolbox full of skills that you could take with you and apply to anything.’ Robin Williams

‘I think educational systems have to be more nimble, have to be more adapted to today’s realities where students can go in different directions and professionalize even faster. Constant retraining and reskilling and upskilling, whatever you want to call it, of the workforce.’ Roberto Azevedo

‘Dancers work and they work and they work, and they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back… That’s the mentality that I’m trying to create, recreate and hold on to forever.’ Pete Carroll

‘Motivation aside, if people get better at these life skills, everyone benefits: The brain doesn’t distinguish between being a more empathic manager and a more empathic father.’ Daniel Goleman

Upskilling is like travelling to new places. The action itself opens up new opportunities.  Upskilling might involve improving throughput (efficiency). For example, using better skills to achieve a greater amount of the same outputs, for the time spent. It could also mean investing in getting extra impact – being more effective with your time spent.

Why upskill in the first place? Because of change, demand alters. Even so called ‘fixed costs’ or ‘fixed prices’ are seldom fixed in the medium term. Because of change, the future remains uncertain too. Because of change & growing interaction, the future is becoming more complex. Together, these factors encourage people to invest in upskilling in various ways to cope.

Personal reasons for upskilling can include wanting to do something:

  • more meaningful,
  • more challenging,
  • more rewarding.

Or to get more variety in your life.

Professional reasons for upskilling can include:

  • widening or deepening your skill base, in order to obtain a new job,
  • to be promoted in your current job,
  • to win more business or retain customer loyalty,
  • to make some tasks in your job easier (let the software summarise & monitor for you.

What should you upskill in is a more difficult question. And one that is highly personal. That said, people generally seem to benefit from achieving a reasonable level of literacy and numeracy. One way to think of the ‘what to upskill’ question, is to re-examine your passions and your abilities. Things that score highly in both will make upskilling a whole lot easier. But not necessarily be the most useful to you i.e. sometimes a trade-off is needed.

When to upskill? Sometimes, regarding a personal hobby, you can be on a structured programme where proficiency improves the longer you stayed committed. For example, the grade system in music. Or the belt system in martial arts. The ‘when’ question is answered for you.

In other situations, judgement is needed. If in doubt, stagger your upskilling effort. And diversify it too.

How to upskill? The choices in the digital age have widened. There are numerous ‘how to’ You Tube videos. Self-help smartphone apps help you learn a new language. Or do ‘brain training’. You can hire coaches, guides, therapists, enablers, or instructors in person. You can people watch and mimic their techniques & ideas e.g. in rollerblading and dance. Sometimes, the best way to upskill is to experiment and learn what works. For example, in jazz improvisation. Or being a parent.

What kind of skills are there to consider upskilling in?

One useful split is into physical and mental skills. Mental skills including thinking skills. These might encompass; imagining, planning, identifying, recognising, comparing, reasoning, controlling your emotions (to some extent), reflecting and reviewing. AI might replace some of these things over time. Humans therefore owe it to ourselves to become adept in the others. For as long as possible.

Is it possible to upskill your instincts?

You can sensitise your senses (the ‘gas pedal’) to influence your instincts. You can also rationalise and use self discipline (the ‘brake pedal’) to moderate your instincts. In the sense of getting more skilful at using the ‘brake’ or ‘gas’ pedal (signals control), it can be thought of as upskilling.

So how is upskilling related to flexibility and personal flexibility in particular?

Flexibility is both a reserve of power and a characteristic to deploy. Upskilling in the right areas can also be these things.  If upskilling makes you more agile and if agility (jumping paths) is a subset of flexibility (which includes creating paths in the first place), then upskilling can be a part of creating flexibility. Flexibility is also needed to change skillsets, best summed up in the following Kofi Annan quote. In the view of this blogger, what Annan says about countries, could equally apply in the transition from childhood into a fully-fledged adult, raising a family.

‘The skills you need to fight the colonial power and the skills you need to gain independence are not necessarily the same you need to run a country.’ Kofi Annan

If flexiscribes are things that code for extra flexibility, then is upskilling something that will achieve this? The answer is not always. You might upskill in more narrow areas of scope. Or in achieving things that use rigid techniques to achieve fixed structures. In doing so, you might achieve personal benefit. But not personal flexibility (PFL).

When else does upskilling not lead to more personal flexibility (PFL)?

  1. When its applications are strictly professional. For example, a soldier is trained to kill enemy combatants. This probably doesn’t translate well into civilian life.
  2. When skills are gained. But lead directly into bad habits. For example, a newbie golfer or snow boarder in their eagerness to try out the activity, skips over getting any lessons and in doing so, builds up some bad habits. I myself did this as a novice skier some years ago. Later, as progress becomes increasingly more limited, the person takes lessons from a professional, which tend to go back to the basics. And replace poor technique with a foundation of good technique to build on further.

If you find these blogs useful, spread the word so others can benefit also.

Simon

2019 Resolutions and Personal Flexibility

‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Thomas Edison

‘Fall seven times and stand up eight.’ Japanese proverb

‘Success is not final, failure is not final. It is the courage to continue that counts.’ Winston Churchill

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2018 is almost over. I hope it’s been a great year for you. For my part, it’s been a mixed bag.

With the new year about to start, is making some new year resolutions a good thing? And why do we make them?

I guess it’s inherently human to want to make a fresh start. To set a new goal. To look for some variety. To make an improvement.  Or do some self-development. Nothing wrong with that. Which of the following groups we fit into and the extent to which we move between them (at different points in our lives) is partly down to our Personal Flexibility (PFL).

Some people make resolutions the way they make a daily ‘to do’ list. Something to focus on and achieve, bit by bit. They are true believers and simply allocate their new year resolutions into their daily lists and get on with it. Some of this group are probably perfectionists as well as true believers.  Always chasing perfection.  But having to constantly redefine it too. Why? They realise that doing more things, or doing some things to a higher standard, isn’t the same thing as achieving perfection in everything.

Other people (I suspect the vast majority), make some new year resolutions, some of which are relatively quick & easy to achieve. With some of their other goals being are really difficult. Or requiring a lot of luck, outside the person’s direct control. 

People might join a gym, give up smoking, enrol in a course, or take up a new hobby. But their commitment to do the activity gets overtaken by other life events (and temptations), breaking the momentum. In this group, some learn to change the goals to ones that are more achievable and join the perfectionist/true believer group. Others learn to cope with mixed success, sometimes thriving on it (adventurers and managers are usually pragmatic people). They may become society’s leaders, because they succeed in the big things.  Yet small failure helps them stay grounded and accessible. Some become disillusioned and turn into non believers.

Finally, there are people who refuse to jump on the new year resolution band wagon – non believers from the start. The wagon moves forward and they stay in the field, watching it go. They may be perfectly happy and know what makes them happy. Like the seasons, they have a rhythm to their life.  And don’t need harsh judgement from the other groups.

In the end and in the round, it probably matters less which ‘resolutions group’ you fit into. But more, whether you live your own life according to a decent set of standards.

Happy New Year!

Simon