When people come to the X Gym, one of the things they acquire is pain tolerance (physical and mental). They also learn how to work hard. Some people start at the X Gym with zero pain tolerance or work ethic. Others completely “kill it” on their first workout.
Why is this? I’ve observed over the three decades I’ve been doing this now, that it mostly has to do with their parents and the society in which they grew up.
OK, here’s the bottom line first because most people nowadays don’t have the attention span to read through an average-length article anymore.
Here’s how to make your kid a wimp, who will only amount to mediocre at best because he/she won’t be able to work hard or even know how to come out of his/her comfort zone.
- Give them awards for participating (or just showing up).
- Reward them for doing the minimum to get the job done (poorly).
- Praise them for being smart vs the effort they put in.
- Let them choose what they want to eat.
- Keep them physically and emotionally comfortable and protected.
- Present only one point of view and shelter them from the others.
- Allow them to make grown-up decisions.
Now, for those of you who do still have an attention span, read on for more details on this problem which is especially prevalent in the USA, far more than any other country on the planet.
Those of us of a certain age despise the modern “everyone gets a trophy for participating” concept. Such awards destroy truly worthy accomplishments and falsely build up people, including those who didn’t really even try.
When I was young, we felt good about ourselves when we accomplished something. And that something had to be hard to accomplish, requiring effort, with considerable discomfort. This was common sense back then. And it had been this way since the dawn of time.
When my kids were young, the prevailing psychology had somehow switched to ensure everyone felt good about themselves, regardless of effort.
Then, and still today, parents and teachers avoid all criticism and saturate everyone in unconditional praise.
Even the school system refuses to flunk any kid, but pass them all through, producing lazy adults who never learned what effort even feels like. The right answers don’t matter. Neither does grammar. The right answers are passé. What matters now is how one feels inside.
Learning how to write declarative sentences, how to think critically, or how to sift the rational from the emotional, has taken a back seat to learning how to love ourselves.
This monstrous miscalculation created generations of praise-addicted, validation seekers frozen by their fear of failure. Millions are now crippled with anxiety and depression, alongside legions of narcissists convinced of their destiny with fame. Visit any social media feed to see validation of this statement.
We also see this social trend in the nutrition habits of kids. Parents remove common sense boundaries and give in to their kid’s demands for sugary processed food because that’s easier than trying to talk them into eating healthy foods. Take it from me: kids love healthy foods when they get hungry enough, and if you stick to your guns, they will eat it. No child has a will strong enough to starve themself to death or even to minor malnutrition.
We live in a thermostat-controlled world, with quick entertainment through screens, and lots of distractions, cultivating a sedentary life with a decimated attention span. When I was a kid, we didn’t have screens, and the TV was for special occasions, so we went outside to play and get our knees scraped up from time to time. If it was rainy, we still went outside to play. If there was lightning nearby, or a hurricane passing through, we stayed inside and read a real book with paper pages. All of these things required physical effort and/or mental focus.
My parents also presented different points of view to me, so I knew that existed. Mom and Dad disagreed sometimes, and they debated with love and respect, sometimes agreeing to disagree, with no hard feelings or any relationship strain in the end. They were both skeptical and researched things for themselves, which molded my mind to do the same.
My parents limited the choices I could make and those loosened up with age, as I earned it, by proving my ability to make good choices. I was not allowed to pick my own bedtime (as hard as I would try) and was also not allowed to pick my gender (which I never tried).
I sucked at some subjects in school and was disciplined if I didn’t show effort. If I did, and I still sucked, my parents would tutor me in that subject. If I got a good grade, I was praised on the effort they observed. If I got a C (or sometimes lower), I would still be praised for my effort, and then came more tutoring.
Professor Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, found praising intelligence over effort led to the opposite of what was intended. Through her experiments with elementary school children, Dweck identified two mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.
Children with a growth mindset see their talents, their intelligence, and their abilities as malleable. They’re unafraid of failure. To them, challenges are opportunities. Children with a fixed mindset see their talents, their intelligence, and their abilities as fixed. They’re terrified of failure. To them, challenges are pitfalls.
In Dweck’s experiments, she gave each child a simple task. Researchers praised one group on their ability: “Wow. You did so well on this. You must be smart.”
To the other group, researchers praised their effort: “Wow. You did so well on this. You must have worked really hard.”
The next challenge for the kids in the experiment proved much more arduous than the last. What happened? Those praised for their smarts got frustrated, gave up faster, and claimed they weren’t “smart enough” to do the challenge. Those praised for their effort stayed the course, enjoyed the challenge, and put in the work.
Just one sentence of unearned praise froze those children into a fear of failure. So, what did decades of the very same thing do to the rest of us?
My parents were willing to put in the effort to teach me how to put in the effort. Parents nowadays aren’t, and they are raising wimps. Lazy parents create lazy kids. And our country is decimated because of it.
We will shift to stronger people in the future, but we will have to go through some hard times first. And they are coming fast. And it’s our fault.
The age-old saying about this cycle is true:
- Hard times create strong men.
- Strong men create good times.
- Good times create weak men.
- Weak men create hard times.
And we are at step three in this cycle…