Warning: this post is at least twice as long as the typical articles on this blog. I hope you find it is worth your time . . .
As a father of two boys, now 6 and 7 years old, I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be raising digital natives in the modern age. We are the first generation to be raising kids who are born into the age of mobile technology, and we are completely underqualified, having had no personal experience of what it is like to grow up with technology. What do the experts say? There are no experts . . . this is a new frontier and we are all trying to figure out how to navigate in this strange new world.
This week, I gave a talk to the parents at my sons’ school and gave them 5 ideas for thinking about how to raise kids in the age of technology:
Delay technology use and ownership until appropriate levels of maturity and responsibility are demonstrated.
I can think of few advantages to giving kids earlier access to technology. The technology is getting easier and more intuitive to use, so it’s not like kids need a “head start” on figuring it out. And we don’t even know yet the long-term impact (on vision, on posture, on mental health, on emotional wellbeing) of kids who grow up staring at screens from a young age. What we do know is that technology is a powerful tool and it can be easy to get into trouble. It is also a bit of a “Pandora’s Box.” Once you open that door, it is very difficult to get it closed again.
In the U.S., there is a campaign called “Wait until 8th” urging parents to pledge not to give their kids a smartphone until 8th grade (or around 14 years of age.) This is a big commitment considering the average age for a first smartphone is now 10 years old (and dropping every year.) The nice thing about this campaign is it is so much easier to stick to if you can get an entire school or community to agree to the same policy. Otherwise, the social pressure ramps up pretty quickly and even the most resolute parent ends up caving in (which is why the age for smartphone usage keeps dropping.) The Wait until 8th slogan is a good one: “let kids be kids a little longer.”
It is easy for parents to give up under the pressure and the feelings of inevitability that seem to be part and parcel of technological progress. But there are pockets of inspiration, like this family that managed to raise a teenage girl to the ripe old age of 18 without ever having a smartphone. I’ve heard lots of parents express regret at giving access to technology too soon, but the few families who manage to delay seem pretty happy with the outcomes.
Develop important skills for managing technology, relationships and presence in the digital age.
We understand that kids need to develop and mature before they get access to a motor vehicle. But many parents seem to be OK to simply “hand over the keys” to technology to their young kids. Considering a smartphone contains all the world’s information and a connection to every person on the planet, good or bad, it is a pretty powerful tool and a responsibility that should not be given lightly.
We should help our kids to develop technological literacy the same way we allow them to gradually develop driving skills. Kids aren’t just handed a car at a very young age. First, they observe their parent driving. Then they get some education around driving in school. Then they are allowed to drive with adult supervision, and finally they get their own license. Eventually, once they have proven themselves responsible, they might even get their own car, but only after all the other steps have been passed.
Technology should also have this progressive approach. It is all too easy to use technology as the digital babsitter, and plop kids in front of a screen while we are busy doing something else. But kids need interactive learning experiences, where they can use technology with an adult by their side, learning about the potential challenges and risks along with the amazing benefits.
Not only do kids need to learn how to use technology, they also need to learn how to not use technology. I hear a lot of parents say, “I had to get my son a smartphone because he has a 45 minute bus ride to school, and I don’t want him to get bored.” If we teach our kids to turn to technology to fill every moment of boredom or discomfort, this strategy will stay with them their entire life. In doing so, we strip them of the opportunity to learn how to be alone with their thoughts, how to manage their own emotions, and how to be creative in figuring out what to do, or how to connect with those around them. The technology is a great tool, and it’s nice to have, but it always comes at some sacrifice. Sometimes, it’s better to let kids be bored.
Define appropriate boundaries and etiquette for healthy technology use.
It’s hard to find clear guidelines for “healthy” technology use. The platforms are changing so rapidly, we don’t really know what is healthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following guidelines:
Children under 18 months >> no screen time
Children 18-24 months >> limited high quality programming with parents
Children 2-5 years >> 1 hour per day, high quality programming with parents
Children 6 years >> Consistent limits, and monitor sleep and physical activity, etc.
All ages >> Designate media-free times and media-free zones for family interaction
>> Ongoing interaction about online citizenship and safety
For Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, we created a “Digital Wellness Manifesto,” where participants can fill in the blanks to create their own household rules around technology. Items include:
“These are the three things I will do in the morning before looking at technology:________________,_________________,________________.”
“Each week, I reserve this day for non-digital activities with loved ones:____________________.”
Naturally, the rules will vary family by family and household by household. But everyone should have some guidelines in place to keep technology use in check.
To see what happens when no boundaries are in place, check out this family who made an experiment out of giving their kids unfettered access to technology for a full weekend. Chaos ensues.
Diminish the impact of technology use on real world social interactions.
A couple of weeks ago I was at my younger son’s rugby match and one of the kids had his father’s cellphone. Immediately, all of the kids gathered around to watch him play video games. I’ve seen this countless times: at the beach, in a restaurant, out on a boat, at a playground; as soon as one child has a device, the social dynamic completely changes. With a device, the kids immediately become glued to the screen. Without a device, they have to figure things out, they have to be creative, a leader has to emerge, they have to figure out how to work together.
Bringing a phone into a social setting removes great opportunities for kids to develop social skills. And the device doesn’t only impact that child, it changes the dynamic for every child in the vicinity. As parents, we hope to teach our kids not to use devices around other children who don’t have them and not to allow devices to interfere with real-world social interaction.
Demonstrate healthy technology usage and etiquette with our own actions.
Ok, let’s be real. This may be the hardest one on the list. We can withhold technology from our kids and tell them they have to brush their teeth in the morning before they look at a device, but how good are we really at practicing what we preach.
In my case, the answer would be a resounding “not very good.” While our family has sheltered our children from screens (we don’t even have a TV) I have spent much of their early years staring down at my phone or ipad. Hypocrite much?
As my kids are getting older (and more savvy about the ways of the world) I have realized that my behavior needs to change. So recently my wife and I have created a new household rule: we do not look at screens in front of our kids. This doesn’t mean we are off of technology, we just keep it undercover. If we need to look at a device, we slip into another room, keeping out of sight of the little ones. One consequence of this is that we spend a lot more time in the bathroom now (try to keep that visual out of your head the next time you get a text from me.) But when we come back into the living room, our devices are put away and we are more connected to each other.
I don’t know how impactful this strategy will be on the development of our kids, but for us personally, I think it has been profound. Some people would argue that they have a million reasons why they must be more connected to their devices. But actually, technology tends to give us the feeling of being productive, without actually helping us to get anything meaningful done.
Keeping technology out of sight of our kids has forced me to bring out certain “ancient artefacts” such as paperback books, clocks, wristwatches, a camera for taking pictures, and my old metronome for guitar practice. The advantage of these outdated “single function” devices is that they allow you to focus on what you intended to do without opening up a window into a whole other world of notifications, e-mails and social media. When I do need to get some real work done, I sit down at my computer, do what I need to do, and then can be more present for the rest of the day. So in my case, cutting back on technology use at home has made me more productive, not less. Most importantly, I am modeling for my kids that we don’t use technology when around other people, an important lesson that will be hard to enforce if we can’t exhibit it ourselves.
These are the topics I’m thinking of in my own family for how to raise digital natives. Your strategy may be different. But the main thing is to have a strategy. Without it, our kids’ relationship to technology will be determined by the technology companies and their advertisers. Not good!
Our kids are young enough that we can still afford a certain level of naivete about what is coming. Some parents of older kids laugh at some of my suggestions and say, “yeah, good luck with that!” I realize none of this is easy and it will only get harder as our kids get older and our technology gets smarter. If you have found something that works for your family, I would love to hear about it.
I happen to be a long-time fan of Jocelyn’s (I’m taking the liberty of using her first name as I feel I know her—she participated in a Twitter Chat we hosted a while back and I’ve been following her on Twitter for a couple of years now.) What I like about her work is she takes a nuanced approach that acknowledges the complexity of life with technology. She uses a “digital nutrition” analogy to suggest that we should think about technology the way think about food. Rather than demonizing technology as inherently bad, we should be establishing the right “nutritional” guidelines around healthy consumption.
I think Jocelyn gets it right most of the time, and the digital nutrition analogy is a good one, and one I have used in my own speaking and writing. But I took exception to her recent article. I actually think there is an aspect about “digital detox” that doesn’t fit well with the digital nutrition model.
It has to do with what I will call the “response curve.” If you drastically reduce your food intake, by going on a fast for example, you will find it easy at the beginning, but over time, the hunger pangs begin to kick in, making it increasingly difficult. After several days of an extreme caloric reduction your overall health and wellbeing will eventually start to decline. If the fast continues too long you could eventually die of starvation.
With a tech detox, the response curve looks almost exactly the opposite. The first moments of being without technology (imagine the moment you realize you left your phone at home after leaving for a one week trip) would bring a spike of anxiety. But as you spend more time without technology, you may find that your wellbeing does not continue to decline but actually improves. You may realize you didn’t need the tech as much as you thought you did.
I need to admit here, that I have very little data to support this claim. But from what I observe in the one- to two-day tech detox retreats that we do in our spas, this is what we find. The three benefits that we repeatedly see are:
People realize that many of the things they were doing with technology were not as important as they thought they were.
People become more aware of other things that they have been sacrificing for technology.
People connect more meaningfully to the people they are with at the time.
People who stop eating food for a while rarely come to the conclusion that food is not as necessary as they thought it was.
I think what Jocelyn might say here is that I’m not taking into account all of the great supportive (read “nutritive”) aspects of technology that would also be lost in these experiences . . . and she would be right. This is where the digital nutrition model holds up really well.
And she also makes a great point that digital detoxes are not helpful if you immediately return to your unhealthy consumption habits pre-detox (which invariably happens in most cases.) But it’s hard to get someone to intelligently reflect on healthy technology habits when they are currently treading to keep their head above the digital stream. It’s like asking someone to think about the impact of drug use while high. Or to use the digital nutrition analogy, maybe it’s not a good idea to ask someone to start a healthy diet while they are fist deep in a quart of ice cream.
Jocelyn’s main point, which I agree with, is that we need to avoid “the binge-purge cycle” and “reclaim a sustainable relationship with technology.” I just happen to think that stepping away from technology for a few days might be a good way to find a clear vantage point from which to see what that relationship might look like.
Do you remember the Sneetches? In one of Dr. Seuss’s most popular books, he told about a society with Star-Belly Sneetches who had “bellies with stars” and Plain-Belly Sneetches who had “none upon thars.” The Star-Belly Sneetches were the privileged elite and the Plain-Belly Sneetches were discriminated against, not being invited to “frankfurter roasts, or picnics, or parties or marshmallow toasts.” Quite a predicament for the Plain-Belly Sneetches.
But then a stranger comes into town, Sylvester McMonkey McBean with a contraption to put stars on the bellies of the Plain-Belly Sneetches. Problem solved, right? Not so fast! Once all the Plain-Belly Sneetches had stars, the Star-Belly Sneetches felt like they needed to do something different to differentiate themselves, so they all had their stars removed. The society began to swing back and forth from putting stars on to taking them off until they were a mix of both again (right back where they started, except no one could remember “whether this one was that one or that one was this one. Or which one was what one or what one was who.”)
This story is usually used as a parable to teach the woes of discriminating against people for superficial reasons, but there is another lesson to be drawn here. Societies don’t tend to become homogenous, they tend to stabilize around an ideal level of diversity. If you push too far in one direction the scales will tip back the other way so that the point of stability is always achieved.
In the Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins describes this as “an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy.” In any community where you have some “Hawks” (aggressive and ready to fight to resolve their problems) and some “Doves” (more collaborative and more likely to retreat if things get violent) the community will eventually stabilize to a set ratio of Hawks vs. Doves.
Why does this happen? Because when there are too many Hawks they become more likely to fight with one another and a small handful of Doves will begin to thrive and multiply by staying out of the fray. But if there are too many Doves, a small handful of Hawks can quickly take power by asserting themselves forcefully, stifling the Doves and increasing the ranks of the Hawks. Invariably, a stable ratio is ultimately found (usually with more Hawks than Doves, BTW.)
In other words, the gun control debate is as futile as the fight over stars on the beaches of the Sneetches. By all means, advocate for the policies that you would like to see–that is how a democracy works. But realize you may only be able to tip the scales so far before it swings back in the other direction. The Hawks will never convince all the Doves that their way is right and the Doves will never convince all the Hawks that their way is right. We are just going to have to learn to live with each other in spite of our differences . . . just like the Sneetches.
The internet seems to be pointing its moral outrage this week at a woman on a plane who was captured on video doing yoga <<gasp!>> in the aisle on a plane. Another passenger took a video of the “incident” and it has gone viral, raising a discussion about what kind of behavior is appropriate on an airplane.
The internet “mob” handled this the way they handle most important issues in modern society: they quickly divided into two extreme camps with opposing views: those who felt this was completely acceptable, and those who felt the woman was way out of line. Internet comments described the woman as “bizarre,” a “liberal snowflake,” and “clearly needing attention.” and one article quoted someone as saying, “this is not your living room.”
I tend to side with the intrepid yogi in this case. Although I might not be brave enough to plop down in the aisle and do downward dog or a camel pose (as this woman did,) I will often leave my seat and quietly find a pocket of space to do a few stretches. I try my best to ignore the awkward stares of other passengers or the annoyed flight attendants who have to move around through the cabin, because I know my body does not like sitting for too long and my spine will thank me for it later.
But society, it seems, is not ready for this. We are taught, from a very early age, to spend our lives obediently sitting, first in classrooms, then in front of computers, and occasionally on airplanes. But a growing body of evidence seems to show that this is horrible for our health. And given that the ever accelerating rise of technology is also associated with an increase in sedentary lifestyle, maybe we should be working to change society rather than conforming to it.
For me, this yogi is the heroine in the story. By defiantly doing her yoga in the airplane aisle, she shows what it looks like to hold personal wellbeing sacred, refusing to sacrifice it for some arbitrary cultural or corporate norm. She was probably the kid who couldn’t sit still in her class or the graduate who chose an alternative career to avoid being chained to a desk in a cubicle all day. More power to her. Maybe, she will even inspire others to do the same and this will become a growing trend, with more people taking to the aisle to get their sun salutations in mid-flight. If enough people do this, airlines will be forced to create a space for passengers to do yoga on every flight.
They say that people fear public speaking more than they fear death, and I can kind of see why. Perhaps one of the most stressful, panic-inducing experiences of my life was agreeing to emcee my company’s holiday party shortly after I had joined the group.
Being a somewhat experienced public speaker, I wasn’t all that nervous when they asked me if I would volunteer. I was new to the company and wanted to make a good impression, so I agreed to go along.
The planning committee for the event determined that the theme would be “Magic” and so I began to develop a script and a character. I would play “The Amazing Jeremy,” an aspiring magician who would try (mostly unsuccessfully) different magic tricks (on my “assistant,” played by a colleague who also “volunteered” for the event.)
But as the weeks wore on and the planning progressed, my anxiety levels started to rise. I quickly realized a few things that would make this much harder than other public speaking engagements I have done:
I am normally speaking about things that I am well versed in (i.e. no need to really memorize a script as I could easily talk about them off the cuff.)
I was over-ambitious in my script-writing so I had to “perform” several complicated magic tricks.
I quickly realized it is much easier to “inform” (the goal of most of my speaking engagements) than it is to “entertain.” Getting the timing right to make jokes and tricks work takes training and experience (two things I was sorely lacking in.)
By the week before the event I was in a sheer panic. I was terrified that all my jokes would fall flat, my magic “tricks” wouldn’t work, and I would be a flop in front of all the executives of my new company.
I was thinking about this state of panic when I heard a talk by my friend, Todd Kashdan, the author of The Upside of Your Dark Side. Todd sees stress a little differently than the rest of us. Stress is not necessarily something to be avoided, but it is actually like a superpower that can enhance our capabilities for a temporary period of time.
Kashdan suggests we think about stress as a superhero, “Anxiety Girl,” that we can call on to help us when we need her. People might think of “Anxiety Girl” as a “buzzkill” since she is the one to point out how things can go wrong and to avert us away from danger. But Anxiety Girl revs up our systems to confront the challenges ahead and makes sure we are energized and prepared to do our best. “She never ends up in the story line in the Wall Street Journal,” says Kashdan, “but Anxiety Girl saves the day time and time again.”
For all my worries about the holiday party, “The Amazing Jeremy” ended up being a big success. I didn’t die of stage fright. Everyone had a good time. In fact, many people came up to me afterwards to tell me it was the best holiday party they had ever attended.
But listening to Kashdan’s talk, I realize that it wasn’t good in spite of my panic and anxiety. It was good because of it. Being stressed to the bone amped me up and forced me to think through my script, work out the problems, and practice relentlessly until I could get it right.
Thank you Anxiety Girl. Once again, you saved the day.
I fell in love with my wife while I was studying Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. It may be that these two events occurring simultaneously were a coincidence, but I actually think they are related in a deep way.
I was studying things like the importance of positive relationships to health and happiness, the positivity resonance that love inspires, and how to recognize and appreciate strengths in other people. And I found myself recognizing and appreciating the strengths in my girlfriend, and enjoying the positivity resonance that we shared together, and appreciating the value of being able to share my life with someone.
Probably I would have fallen in love with Catherine anyways. But we’ll never know, will we?
And I’m not the only one who has reported profound relationship changes from studying positive psychology. Alan Foster, a friend and Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) colleague, said when he was considering plunking down the considerable tuition for a MAPP degree, he tried to do an ROI analysis by interviewing previous graduates and learning more about the costs and benefits they experienced from their studies. “I was asking people how their careers changed, but people were telling me things like, ‘my relationship with my husband is much better,’” Alan said, “and I didn’t have a line in my spreadsheet for that.”
There is good news for people who want to profoundly improve their romantic relationships without the considerable time and money investment that is required for a graduate degree in positive psychology. I have just finished reading a review copy of a new book that has been written by Suzie Pawelski (another fellow MAPP grad) and her husband, James Pawelski, who is the director of the MAPP program and one of its most esteemed and beloved professors. Is it a coincidence that Suzie fell in love with James while studying positive psychology? This is a mystery that does not get solved in the book. But Suzie and James have indeed been applying the lessons they have learned through their studies to their own relationship and they are sharing their stories with others.
In the book, they discuss the pitfalls of having a relationship that is based purely on pleasure, or on utilitarian needs. They present the ideal as an “Aristotelian relationship,” which is a partnership dedicated to becoming the best version of yourself while simultaneously bringing out the best version of your partner. I had never heard this concept of Aristotelian relationships before, and I find it a wonderful lens to think about creating a relationship based on virtue.
Using “virtuosity” as the measuring stick for a relationship, is a lofty goal, but to hear Suzie and James explain it, it sounds like the right one. Most relationship advice seems to focus on “finding happiness” with another person or finding someone who “meets your needs.” This common language sounds superficial when you compare it to finding a relationship that elevates both partners to become their best selves. I like to think that my wife and I fit well into this idea, and that it was the recognition of this, early in our relationship, that led us to see the lifetime potential of staying joined together.
In the book, there are tips for getting to know your partner’s strengths and virtues, bringing them out in the relationship, and how to express and receive admiration along the way. James and Suzie do a good job of emphasizing the skills needed for both giving AND receiving in a relationship. As they describe, a relationship is like a dance in which both partners need to know how to lead at certain times, and both partners need to know how to follow. Since getting married, Suzie and James have been learning to dance (both literally and figuratively) and they share not only the strategies they have found successful, but some of their missteps along the way.
I think it’s safe to say that you don’t need to study positive psychology to have a great virtuous relationship. But it seems it doesn’t hurt. Check out Happy Together and let me know what you think.
References and recommended reading:
Pawelski, S. P. & Pawelski, J. O. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts. Penguin Group: TarcherPerigee.
A friend I hadn’t talked to in a few years called me out of the blue the other day. “So,” she asked, “is your life as good as it seems on Facebook?” I smiled, because my life does look pretty good on Facebook. I have a beautiful family, I travel to exotic locations, I’m active and stay in good shape, etc. It all photographs very well. But I answered her honestly, “no one’s life is as good as it seems on Facebook.”
On Facebook (or Instagram), I only post the best moments. I share the best pictures of myself and my family. I post the most amazing experiences that I have in my travels. I share my most exciting professional and personal accomplishments. But as good as all these things are, they only represent a small percentage of my overall life.
This weekend, for example, I’m laid out flat with a bad back. I have a herniated disc that flares up several times a year. When it goes out, I’m in miserable, excruciating pain and can’t do much other than lie around on the floor for three days. It will take a full week before I’m back to normal. But what do I put on social media about this experience? Not a peep.
And this is only one example. In my social media feeds you can find tons of pictures of my kids at their most adorable. But all the temper tantrums, bedwetting, and feverish sleepless nights don’t get so much as a single post. Professionally, you can see the amazing accomplishments that I am most proud of, but none of the setbacks, failures or anxieties. You can see the highlights of my best travel experiences, surfing in Bali, snowboarding in Japan, my latest trip to Ireland, etc. But nothing about hours spent in airports, canceled flights and disappointing hotel experiences.
It is not my intention to be deceptive—to craft this fictional persona that appears better than I really am. It just naturally evolves.
Positive psychology research shows that we benefit from sharing good news with other people. People’s happiness is not only determined by the good things that happen to us but by how many people we share it with. Broadcasting good news amplifies it, making it more meaningful and relevant to our lives. Researchers have also pointed out the benefits of savouring, or “noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life.” When I post things on Facebook or Instagram, I am keeping a record of the most precious moments that I want to remember and cherish in the future. I don’t want to remember all the times I spend wrestling with temper tantrums or back pain.
This seems to be the unspoken etiquette of social media. We are posting things that people can “like.” Save the whining about your struggles for the bartender at your local pub. Your Facebook friends want happy posts. If you get too morose on Facebook, the site’s own algorithms will start suppressing your posts in favor of something more shareable, like happy cat videos.
The problem with Facebook’s rose colored filter is that much of human happiness is relative. We only decide how happy we should be by comparing our lives to everyone else’s. This is why, in the Olympics, “bronze medalists are happier than silver winners.” The silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medal winners and feel remorse that they didn’t win. The bronze medalists compare themselves to the non-medalists and feel lucky for having medaled.
Some attribute the rise in depression and suicide, particularly among teenage girls to social comparison on sites such as Facebook. It’s hard to measure up to our friends when we see only their highlights but are all too familiar with our own personal lowest moments. This is the great irony of social media. We come to Facebook to feel happy and connected and we end up feeling miserable and lonely.
The key, I think, is to see through the illusion. What we see on Facebook is a happy, cartoonish version of real life. While we scroll through our friends’ posts liking their good news, congratulating their accomplishments, and admiring their talents, we need to realize we have no idea what else is going on. We don’t know what burdens people are carrying. We don’t see the struggle.
So when you talk to a friend you haven’t spoken with for a while, don’t ask them if there life is as good as it seems on Facebook. It isn’t. Ask them to tell you what’s really going on. Ask them to share something unlikeable. Ask them to tell you the biggest challenge they are facing. Real questions lead to real conversations and maybe . . . just maybe . . . real relationships (remember those?)
by Jeremy McCarthy
If you want to see how good my life is you can follow me on Instagram.
Although I have never been much of a foodie, I can’t help but enjoy the veritable plethora of Asian delicacies that my life in Hong Kong affords me. Whether it’s Korean barbecue, spicy Szechuan Chinese, fresh Japanese sushi, or Cantonese dim sum, the options are plentiful and they are mouth-wateringly delicious.
During these wonderful meals, I am often presented with a choice, one which will be familiar to any western customer who has dined in any Asian restaurant anywhere in the world: chopsticks or silverware? Do I stick to the cool, familiar comfort of stainless steel? Or do I challenge my clumsy fingers to navigate the meal with chopsticks, feebly chasing dumplings around my plate and embarrassingly dropping fish balls into my soup with a tie-ruining splatter?
I almost always go for the chopsticks. It doesn’t always go well. I’ve had embarrassing moments where a slippery siu mai escapes my weak grasp flying into my companion’s lap. Or a spicy tuna role defiantly dives back into the soy sauce creating a high sodium tsunami that wipes out anything or anyone in its path. But I appreciate the challenge and the opportunity to improve my skills. I was trained from a young age by movies like “The Karate Kid” to believe that chopsticks proficiency is an important step on the pathway to martial arts mastery.
Choosing the chopsticks in favor of the more comfortable western silverware is evidence of a “growth mindset.” Psychologist Carol S. Dweck describes this as “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well.” Those with a growth mindset enjoy putting themselves into uncomfortable situations because they know it helps them to grow and cultivate new skills.
But not everyone has this approach. Those with more of a “fixed mindset,” believe their talents and qualities are “carved in stone.”You either have it or you don’t. For them the best strategy is to stick with what they are naturally good at, thereby showing their strengths. With this mindset, there is no point in suffering the embarrassment of using chopsticks if you don’t have to.
The interesting thing about mindsets is that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Those with a growth mindset seek opportunities that are challenging, uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing in the short-term. And out of those opportunities they learn and grow. Those with a fixed mindset seek opportunities that showcase what they are already good at, avoiding challenging situations that might expose their weaknesses. Because of this they become even more comfortable in their status quo groove, but are less likely to grow their talents in new directions.
The research, by Dweck and others, shows that a more growth-oriented approach has its advantages. Those with a growth mindset not only open themselves to more opportunities for achievement, but they are less impacted by the minor setbacks and failures along the way. They are more resilient to stress. Creating more of a growth mindset may simply be a matter of shifting perspective:
Embrace challenge. Don’t give up when things are getting difficult. Relish the opportunity to grow.
Prioritize effort over talent. Rewarding your children’s academic accomplishments with the standard, “You’re so smart!” encourages a fixed mindset. An acknowledgment of their efforts, “You really worked hard on this!” or “Your efforts are really paying off!” cultivates the sense that they are not limited by inherent talents.
Learn from criticism. Defensive reactions to criticism are also evidence of a fixed mindset. Appreciate your critics. They are helping you to grow.
Now think about the chopsticks moments in your life. Where do you believe your talents can grow, and where do you believe they are fixed? Where do you push yourself beyond your comfort zone and where do you stick to showcasing the talents that you already have? The next time you find yourself in an Asian restaurant, choose the chopsticks (and all the awkwardness that comes with them.) In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.
GWS 2017: Wellness in the Age of Technology | Jeremy McCarthy - YouTube
We’ve had a lot of interesting conversations this week about technology and wellness. And I think most of it has been pretty optimistic, wouldn’t you say that? I’ve heard a lot of excitement about a lot of new tools that we have available to us now that help us with wellness. I’ve heard about artificial intelligence, virtual reality, wearables, apps. We heard about voice activation this morning, big data, nanotechnology, genetic testing, telomeres, the list goes on and on. And all of these things are exciting. We’re right to be excited about it because all of these innovations have the potential to have a massive positive impact on human wellness.
But I want to spend a few minutes talking about the potential costs of this technology. Because it seems like the more we outsource wellness to technology, the more dependent on technology we become, and the less able we are to take care of ourselves.
There is an interesting theory that scientists have that maybe the reason we’ve never discovered life on any other planet yet is because any civilization that becomes sufficiently advanced in technology eventually goes completely online. So it’s not that there is no life on other planets, it’s just that they have gone into their own virtual worlds so we don’t see evidence of them.
I find this theory very interesting. Terrifying . . . but interesting. And partly it’s interesting because it’s kind of believable, right? If you see the relationship that we have with our technology and the way that things are going, it seems like we’re moving in that direction.
This theory also showcases what I think is the problem with technology. The problem with technology is not that it is bad . . . it’s that it’s too good. Right? We love technology. I mean every person in this room has a device in their pocket, or in their hands for some of you, that has every book, every movie, every song ever made, the answer to every question that’s ever been asked, and a connection to every person that you’ve ever met (and depending on what apps you use, the connection to some people you’d like to meet.)
So, we should love our technology, it’s amazing how good it is. The problem with technology is not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s so good. So we love it, but maybe we love it too much. We love it so much, we don’t always realize the sacrifices we are making for the sake of our technology. We make sacrifices in physical movement. We make sacrifices in our relationships. We make sacrifices in our attention, in our time, in our sleep, in our connection to nature. And we’re making all of these sacrifices today, for technology that didn’t exist 20 years ago. And think for a second about how much better this technology is going to get 20 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now. It’s going to get way better. So what will we be willing to sacrifice then, when the technology is infinitely better than it is today?
It becomes easy to see how we might eventually just completely forsake our non-digital humanity and go into the cloud. We just become the machine. And I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of scary.
Now, it’s easy to make fun of the doomsday prophet. Because there has always been innovation, there is always progress, there are always new technologies that come along. And there is always somebody like me who comes along who wants to rain on everyone’s parade and warn of the impending doom and gloom that we’re going to have because of progress. And progress happens. Things seem to work out. We make progress, we have innovation, we develop new technologies and life goes on. We enjoy our modern conveniences. And really, nobody ever wants to go back. We don’t want to give up our technology. Nobody wants to return to prehistoric times or to the age of our tribal hunter-gatherer ancestors.
But the question that we need to ask is not necessarily would we go back, but would our ancestors want to come forward?
If we were to take one of our Neanderthal ancestors and bring them to modern earth, what would they think about what we’ve created here? Would they look around and say, “Yeah, I really love what you’ve done with the place!” Or would they say that we’ve paved paradise to put up a parking lot. Would they see us as being slaves to our corporations, chained to technology, disconnected from our planet, and disconnected from our families. It’s hard to say how they would view what we have created here. But certainly, they would be able to see better than we can what has been sacrificed along the way.
And the reason why I think this Neanderthal perspective of technology is a good one to take is because in this case, as we think about our future, we are the Neanderthals. We are the primitive ones in the present moment trying to imagine what this digital future is going to be, and having a hard time understanding what the world is going to become.
There’s no question that our descendants who live in the future, who are semi-robotic, cybernetic, virtual descendants of ours, they’ll be OK with the modern digital world that will have been created because that’s going to be all that they know. It’s only here from our primitive viewpoint in the present that we can see the sacrifices that maybe get made along the way.
So, it seems to me like we have an opportunity. If the wellness industry is about living a well life, we need to think about, how do we help humanity thrive in the age of technology. And I think maybe we need to think about a new field of “Digital Wellness.” There are a lot of these sub-disciplines that are emerging, people that are starting to do research and advocate for different ways of relating to technology, but I really haven’t heard anybody take a holistic view of really thinking about what our relationship to technology should be and how we should collectively think about the way technology impacts our wellness.
It seems like we have a window of opportunity right now. Unlike our ancestors—they didn’t understand evolution and science and technology – we have some knowledge of those things today. We understand what’s happening. We can see, in a way that previous generations couldn’t, the direction that we’re headed in. So I think we have an opportunity to take some control of our destiny and to influence the way that we go. But we also have to think about the fact that our technology will eventually outsmart us. And that could close the window of opportunity that we have, so it’s kind of important that we think about these things now.
There are a few things that I think we could all be doing to help with this. One is, we should not assume inevitability. Because I think there’s a tendency to think that the way things are is the way that they have to be and that we don’t have that much control over it. We assume that we have to give up our data, if we want to use these technologies. Do we really? Is that the only way that we could have all this technology? I’m not so sure.
Do our search engines and social networks have to be controlled by corporate advertising? Is that the only way? We should question these things and we should question the status quo and we should push back on the ways that we use technology if it doesn’t feel like it’s supporting human wellness.
There was a TED talk by Sam Harris on artificial intelligence and he said, “The train has already left the station and there’s no brake to be pulled.” And actually, I don’t like that mindset, because what do you do in that case? Do you just give up and go along for the ride, and we don’t have any influence over where we’re going or how we get there? I think we need to take control of our relationship with technology and really think about it.
An example that I use is the Amish community. Kevin Kelly who was one of the founders of Wired Magazine and a writer on technology has spent a lot of time in the Amish community. And he says that people have a misconception about the Amish. We tend to think of them as being anti-technology, but actually, he calls them “Amish hackers,” because he says that they are always bringing in technologies. Most people don’t think that, but they usually will have in their community a radio, a gas powered engine, or they might have a machine. But they use these technologies in a very limited way and for a very specific purpose. And they only use them when the elders of the community approve their use. And once the technology is tested, when the entire community agrees that that technology is aligned with the values and goals that they have for their community. So I think there is something that we could learn from the Amish on not just accepting technology as it is.
The other thing that we can do is to establish guidelines around Digital Nutrition. I’ve been hearing a lot this language of “Digital Nutrition.” Because there’s a great analogy between food and technology. Technology is like food in the sense that it’s not inherently good or bad, it really depends on the quality and quantity of what we’re using it for. This is a Mental Food Plate that was created by a tech ethicist, David Ryan Polgar. And he’s written about this concept of mental obesity. That we’re just constantly overconsuming information in the age of technology. All we do is consume consume consume and we get into this state of mental obesity where our minds are completely overloaded by all of the information coming in.
So he suggests a balanced plate, where we balance mindful consumption of technology with reflection on the things that we’re learning, with assessment about whether the technologies we’re using and the information that we’re gathering is beneficial to us or not. And I think there are some ideas here that we could incorporate into what we all do.
And then the third thing, and maybe the most important one, is that we should really cherish and hold sacred our non-digital humanity. This is what I think about with my kids. I have two boys, 5 and 7 years old and I want them to grow up knowing what it means to be a human without technology. I want them to find non-digital activities that they can participate in, that will bring them into flow experiences where they are in their bodies, they are in their minds, they are in their emotions, experiencing what it is to be a human, and completely losing themselves in the love of what they’re doing so they never think about looking at a device.
Now whether that’s possible or not, I’m not so sure. Because I talk to a lot of parents that have kids older than mine, who tell me that their kids are spending their lives in their bedrooms staring at screens. But I think we need to really protect, encourage, promote and cherish these kinds of quintessential non-digital activities. And we should think about non-digital humans and protect them the same way we might protect an endangered species because actually, we may be an endangered species in the near future.
Now, I want to end with a couple of areas of hope that I see on the horizon. So the first one is mindfulness. And I think it’s not a coincidence that we have seen the rise of mindfulness come at the same time as we’ve seen the emergence of all of these new technologies. Mindfulness is basically our ability to observe and potentially alter the automatic programs that we have inherited from previous generations. The faster the pace of change, the more technology comes, the more the world around us changes, the less those automatic programs that we have inherited will serve us. And the more important it is that we have that ability to separate from those or adapt them to the modern world that we’re living in. So I don’t think that mindfulness is a fad, I think that it is a critical skill that we are going to need to navigate this digital future that we’re moving in to.
And the second area of hope that I see on the horizon is, ironically, technology. Because, we’ve talked about all the amazing things that are coming. I mean, these tools are amazing, and technology is benefitting us in many ways, so this is not a black and white issue. It’s a complex issue.
The way that I think about it is technology is the greatest threat to human wellbeing that we have ever seen, but it’s also the greatest hope for our future. I said that technology would eventually outsmart us, and we’re going to need that intelligence to help us solve these complex problems.
So the challenge is how do we create a technology that is an ally in developing humanity in a way that brings wellness to everything that we do. If you were an outside observer, looking at life on earth, you might assume that humanity exists to help technology flourish. And I think our job is to make sure that technology exists to help humanity flourish.
I had the breath knocked out of me last year when I was surprised with an award at the Global Wellness Summit in Tyrol, Austria. I was given the “Debra Simon Award” recognizing a “Leader in Furthering Mental Wellness.” The award was a touching recognition of my contribution to the industry and even more importantly, a strong indicator of how far we have come in the past decade.
It was almost a decade ago when I first began speaking about the importance of psychology to the spa and wellness communities. At the time, spas identified themselves as “places devoted to overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.” (ISPA.) But I think most spas were failing to live up to this definition. While we were promoting this idea of holistic mind/body/spirit wellness, most spas were marketing themselves around the purely physical aspects of the experience: the scope of their facilities, the techniques of their therapists, the ingredients of their products, etc.
When I went back to school in 2008 to pursue my Master of Applied Positive Psychology, the number one question that people in the industry asked me was, “Oh, are you leaving the spa industry?” Isn’t it curious that we claimed to be offering mind, body and spirit well-being, but we didn’t think that the scientific study of mental well-being was relevant to our industry?
Well, boy have things changed. Today, the study of psychology is not seen as extracurricular to the spa and wellness world, but a core part of what we do. At industry conferences today, psychology is the headliner. And the Global Wellness Summit has been leading the way with last year’s summit featuring a broad range of experts and discussion topics about aspects of psychological well-being including “mental toughness,” “mental detox,” and “the neuroscience of beauty.” This year’s event appears to go even further into these topics with the theme “Living a Well Life,” a new initiative on “Mental Wellness,” and a “historic lineup of experts” on the “science of happiness.”
It is clear that the Global Wellness Summit takes psychological well-being very seriously. Not only did they establish the honorary award for leaders in furthering mental wellness, but they have formed a new committee working on mental wellness initiatives, and have announced “mental wellness” as one of their top trends for 2017. Susie Ellis, the organizer of the Summit, said this year’s award was recognizing me for being one of the first voices in our industry to talk about the importance of psychological well-being. I certainly didn’t create the trend towards mental wellness—it is simply an idea whose time has come—but I appreciate the recognition for promoting something that I still believe is so important to human wellbeing.
What made the award even more moving was to hear the story of Debra Simon, Susie’s friend in whose name the award is endowed. Most in the industry won’t know who Debra Simon was, but a brief video at the summit, narrated by Debra’s daughter told her powerful story.
Debra lived an amazing life, raised a beautiful family and had deep friendships. But as is too often the case, life had something else in store. Tragedy began to strike. She had a painful and grueling divorce, which ultimately brought her to financial ruin, and then her youngest son received a life-changing and debilitating traumatic brain injury.
It was one blow after another and Debra felt that she couldn’t take anymore. She felt like she was in “the final round of a boxing match, and simply could not get up anymore.” On September 9, 2009, she took her own life.
Debra’s story reminds us that we are all vulnerable. The winds of fate are fickle. We never know which way they will blow.
During her life, Debra Simon always tried to help those around her. But she never got the help that she needed herself, and eventually, her hope ran out. I asked Debra’s daughter, Lauren, what she thought the wellness industry should learn from her mother’s story. “Embrace people with kindness and fill them with hope,” she said. “You never know the battles they are facing.”