I was listening to a TED talk recently by Eduardo Briceno. The gist of it was that we spend our time either in the learning zone or the performance zone. The learning zone is where we practice and try out new behaviors. The performance zone is when we commit to do whatever we are doing to the best of our ability. This got me thinking particularly around learning new skills as a parent.
Mr. Briceno talked about the need for deliberate practice. This is typically done in the learning zone. It involves doing specific tasks that help you get better at doing something. It doesn’t mean that you do a whole range of behaviors from beginning to end, but instead focus on the specific behaviors that need work. There are many parents I know who are quite skilled in many areas of raising their children. A parent I recently started working with has an amazing capacity for empathy with her child most of the time. She is particularly skilled at being able to attune to his various emotions. Where she struggles though is when he makes comments about her not being a good parent when he is angry. This tends to trigger her and suddenly she is not so empathic to her child. The words escalate between them and before you know it, both are flooded by angry emotions.
I talked with this mother about the idea of deliberate practice. What we decided to practice in session was how she would respond to negative comments made to her by her son. This took the role of me playing her son and saying the very things that were triggering to her so that she could practice what it would feel like to respond differently as well as tolerate the uncomfortable feelings this would likely create.
Was it easy? No. Was it helpful? Absolutely.
By engaging in this practice, this mother was in the learning zone. She made mistakes. She at times wanted to justify her reactions. With help though, she became stronger in her ability to respond in a more helpful manner when she was triggered. She was able to continue this practice when she was alone by saying aloud the things she had practiced with me. This helped increase her comfort and ability to respond more calmly.
I think the take away for me in this was that this mother was willing to practice at becoming a better parent. The openness to trying different things is an important part of growing as a parent. Carol Dweck, a researcher, calls this a growth mindset. The willingness to adapt our behavior to get a different response.
When we just continue as a parent as we always have, I see that as being in the performance zone. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with being in the performance zone.
Sometimes though we need to step back and deliberately practice new skills to help us become better parents. That requires a very conscious decision on our part to practice and make mistakes doing what may not be natural for us.
Consider what small change you could be practicing in a more deliberate way that may move your parenting skills to a whole new level. See you in the learning zone!