#3 Shit happens. Move On.
Toddlers can be amazing teachers if you’re willing to listen (or observe).
To watch a child hustle and struggle her way through her early years is fascinating and mesmerizing, to say the least.
Before our son was born, I never really saw the growth process in action. Yes, we’ve all seen ourselves grow in our personal and professional lives, but that growth happens over a period of time and isn’t quite noticeable on a day-to-day basis. However, a child’s growth is visible every single day. One day they are struggling to roll over, and the next day, they’ll climb over a wall!
Seeing a child grow up in front of your eyes changes you. It makes you realize that you’re born with some amazing innate capabilities that somehow lose their edge as you grow older. There are nuggets in there which can be truly transformational if applied to our own lives.
I reflect on some of these lessons.
#1 If You Can’t Follow Your Own Advice, Don’t Expect Others to Do That
Even before our son was born, my wife and I decided that we won’t expose him to phone or tablet screens till he was 2. We knew it wouldn’t be easy but it was non-negotiable for us. In addition to that, we also wanted his TV time to be kept to a minimum.
However, practicing this was more difficult than we had initially thought. He would look at our phones lying around and do everything possible to grab them. It took all our might (and all his screaming) to keep him away from phones. We persisted but kept thinking that this shouldn’t be so difficult. Why this resistance?
Then we made one change that made this job easier for us. We realized that the problem was not with his craving but with our own addiction to phones. We wanted him to stay away from screens, yet we were completely immersed in our devices. Our words said one thing, but our actions narrated a completely different story.
The only way we had any chance of influencing his behavior was by modeling that ourselves. It is foolish to expect others to follow ‘virtuous’ paths if you can’t follow them yourselves. People may listen to what you have to say, but they also see what you do.
Want someone to follow your advice? Do it yourself first. Easier said than done.
#2 Curiosity Is the Mother of Invention
Curiosity is powerful. Every change or transformation that we see around us today began with curiosity. You wouldn’t have had Uber and Airbnb had it not been for their founder’s curiosity to see if a better solution exists.
There is no better proof of this than to see a baby figure out stuff on her own. When my son was around 8 months old, he had this urge to find out what we had stored in a compartment (that was too high for him to reach).
We saw him struggle to reach it every day. It didn’t really bother us since we didn’t think he could get there(not at that age and agility).
However, one fine day when I came into our living room from the kitchen, I saw him atop our futon, stretching out his hand and trying to open that compartment door! He saw me, flashed a brief smile, and went about his pursuit.
I had to obviously run and pick him up since he had placed himself in a very precarious position but what he managed to do was unfathomable. All because he was curious to know what was inside that compartment.
Your curiosity prompts you to take action and keep doing stuff till you figure it out. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has also led us to make some powerful discoveries.
#3 Shit Happens. Move On
In the case of toddlers, both literally and figuratively.
We let go of some significant and possibly life-changing opportunities because we either self reject before trying or are too busy worrying about what others might think about us.
A toddler doesn’t care about that. Kids keep achieving milestones (and growth) while we adults focus on security (and stagnancy). They achieve milestones because a) They go outside their comfort zones, and b) They just don’t give up.
When our son rolled over for the first time, it took him almost 20 mins to get there. We were lucky enough to witness this milestone. However, 10 mins in, and I got bored watching him try. I really thought he would give up because he wasn’t getting anywhere.
The first 15 mins of those 20 mins didn’t get him anywhere. It was in those last 5 minutes that he managed to make progress and rolled over.
Achieving goals requires anticipating failures and the willingness to learn from them and continue moving forward. It requires persistence and friendship with boredom and mundane tasks.
#4 Patience Is the Key to Behavior Change
We love overnight results. Stories of instant success catch our attention. Goal setting feels good because we see ourselves achieving those goals easily. To add to that delusion, companies make money off selling us those ‘easy’ dreams. We underestimate the importance of being patient with ourselves while we work through our tasks to achieve our goals.
A child teaches us how that’s a big mistake. Our son has a habit of sucking his thumb. It didn’t really bother us initially, but gradually, that habit solidified and that’s when we started getting worried about it.
We decided to take some action and tried breaking that habit. He, however, remained resistant and kept throwing tantrums. We consulted our pediatrician and tried various tricks and techniques over the next few months. We saw small gains but nothing very substantial.
These small gains weren’t very motivating. Sensing our anxiety, our pediatrician tried setting our expectations right. She told us that it was unrealistic to expect a behavior change overnight. When our brain forms a habit (or a pattern), it takes a long time to change that pattern. It goes for both; good habits as well as bad ones. Expecting overnight results is a mistake.
He continues to suck his thumb to date, but we’ve seen a marked improvement over the past 6 months or so. Small gains led to major improvement.
Behavior change happens when persistent efforts are applied over time.
#5 Agility Is a Superpower
Given a task or a challenge, what do we do? We set goals, make a plan (and a fallback plan), allocate resources, analyze risks, and then start executing the plan.
You know what a child does? He just goes for it. He doesn’t sit there analyzing the impact of climbing up those stairs, the benefits of doing so, and a plan b if he’s not able to crawl up (or if he misses a step).
I’m not saying that we need to start behaving like kids and do no planning whatsoever. However, there is something to learn from a child’s behavior.
Planning and analysis are overrated. Yes, we need some basic prep and ground rules, but beyond that, our execution will make those rules clearer to us. Action isn’t just an effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.
Action isn’t just an effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it. — Mark Manson.
Agile execution trumps perfect planning, and there is no better example for that than seeing a child achieve her milestones.
#6 Humans Are Illogical
There are times when our son throws tantrums because he’s fixated on something. For example, he has one favorite blanket (with his name written on it). We got it when he was 3 months old. He loves it and can’t sleep in any other blanket.
He’s 2 years old now, and we’ve tried replacing that blanket with ones that fit better. However, he refuses to let go of that. We even got the exact same custom blanket in a bigger size, but that proved futile as well.
He’s attached to it and probably identifies that blanket as a part of himself. However, this seems completely illogical to us. Why would he not want something new and better?
He has some other idiosyncrasies that make no sense to us. But I guess that’s what human beings are. We aren’t really driven by logic and rationale all the time. In addition to being intellectual beings, we are also social, emotional, and selfish beings. All of these play a crucial role in shaping our behavior.
Expecting humans to make only rational and logical decisions is a mistake.
If you have kids at home, don’t just try teaching them stuff, try learning from them and applying those lessons to your own life. Their growth might show you your growth path as well.