Thursday, November 22, 2012

More Than Giving Thanks – The Key to Willpower

During my adult lifetime, the “holiday” I most looked forward to during this time of year was January 2nd when things finally got back to normal.

Yes, you wouldn’t know it by my behavior as a grandparent, but I was a holiday curmudgeon during my now-concluded, nearly forty-year career.  But if I had a favorite holiday, it was Thanksgiving.  Short, sweet, to the point and with modest expectations.

It is overly simplistic to tie attitudes about the holidays to an individual’s upbringing.  But it seems to me that many adults who take holiday preparations to extremes are trying to compensate for childhood memories, either disappointing or the lack thereof, while many who are turned off when it comes to holidays have wonderful memories to look back on.American Values Survey

According to the recent in-depth American Values Survey, by 73 to 1, our society believes that family has the greatest impact on our values, ten times greater than schools.

More than 80% feel that they have it much tougher today as parents than their parents did, 22% of American parents are focused on making kids happier today, while 76% are focused on helping their kids be successful in the future.

One important ingredient for any future success is willpower which many believe cannot be taught, or in my experience, established in adults once they become part of the workplace.

However, a new study by researchers at the University of Rochester finds that willpower is strongly linked to a child’s ability to find trust in and/or rely on parents and other adults to keep promises and commitments, a prescient irony belatedly gleaned by many of us from the haunting lyrics of the 1974 hit Cat’s in the Cradle, performed and written by the late Harry Chapin based on a poem written by his wife Sandy.

It turns out that keeping promises and other commitments to children is also linked to the ability to defer immediate gratification.  Maybe it also has something to do with the way Americans view “struggle” compared to Asian parents.

I also wonder if even as adults, being let down by those to whom we entrust the safeguarding of our society is at the root of why the percentage of American trusting in the rewards of hard work has fallen to 70% including 64% among Democrats and 66% among Independents.

Only 44% of Americans now believe that our country’s traditional value of “upward mobility/ability to pull oneself up by bootstraps” contributes to America having stronger values than other places in the world.

Only 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 today believe that the free enterprise system contributes to strong American values and only 20% of Americans overall believe that people are generally altruistic vs. motivated by self interest.

Only 47% of Americans attribute the weakening of American values to “apathy/lack of strong work ethic,” compared to 63% who attribute this to “political corruption” and 61% to the “influence of money in politics” which brings us back to trust in the system when the rewards for working hard are trumped by special interests.

Giving thanks is not only a holiday, as declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, during our nation’s deepest division and an ancient tradition, but a secret scientists have identified as a prophylactic to depression and the blues throughout the year.

Hug your kids, your grandkids and great grandkids on this holiday, but also remember that keeping promises and commitments and being reliable are pivotal to future success.

But this doesn’t should not be construed to mean “overprotection” – a mistake which is often made today by what has become known as “helicopter parents” who choose to hover over their offspring rather than instill values which will contribute to their success in the future.

The key to success is failure and researchers who have proven this to be true find it far more directly linked to success than intelligence.

I wish that everyone could be as fortunate as I was to find my life’s work as described by Bold Academy-founder Amber Rae on this Fast Company blog, both during my now concluded career and in retirement by recognizing that:

1. It doesn't feel like work.
2. You are aligned with your core values.
3. You are willing to suffer.
4. You experience frequent flow.
5. You make room for living.
6. Commitment is an honor.
7. The people who matter notice.
8. You fall asleep exhausted, fulfilled, and ready for tomorrow.

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