What people say
“Nobody ever got hurt from looking at the bright side of life”
“Remember, the glass is half full”
“Every cloud has a silver lining”
And my personal favourite…
“If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you” (General Arthur McAuliff)
These are, with the possible exception of the General’s view, common mantras we hear to help us get past the bad and focus on the good in things. By the way, the General is also credited with this little beauty… “If you are feeling unsuccessful just think about this; eagles soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” But they’re a bit glib, or, in the case of the General, a touch cynical (even if they are funny!).
And in here is a problem with many well-meaning approaches. What they don’t do, is teach us much about how we might do things differently. As a parent, or in our analogy, a coach, what do you do? So there’s a bit of work in us understanding the nature of our players, and where we’ve got room to move.
A refresher, if you’ve not been doing your homework
Ok. I hope you’ve been doing your homework. Particularly, as parents we need to understand how we, and our children, make attributions. That is, how do we decide why something happened. It’s important for us to understand how we do it ourselves because, no surprise, without other instruction, our children learn it from us.
Particularly, you’ve been practising looking for the Fundamental Attribution Error, and the three components of attributions we talked about last time:
- Internal vs External – inside you or outside you
- Global vs Specific – affects everything or relevant here, now, or for this example
- Stable vs Unstable – because of things that can’t change, or because of things that can
While there are loads of biases in attributions (the Fundamental Attribution Error is the classic biased attribution, the self-serving bias is another) we’re wanting to unpack the thinking that goes with the three components and develop better resilience as a result.
Improving basic skills
The key to what we need to do here with attributions is develop alternatives. It’s critical. Super-critical. But there are some obstacles to identify, and a couple of tricks we need as parents. Work with me here while we pull a couple of threads together.
Back in the day we talked about how the brain likes to run on subroutines. It wants efficiency so that it uses fewer resources, because it has only a finite amount of energy so best to conserve it. Therefore, it uses the most familiar route it has, like running on autopilot. The easiest thing for the brain to do becomes the most common thing it does, regardless of whether this is helpful or unhelpful, which is why change is hard.
In this context, for attributions, we do what we’ve always done, because we’re used to it. The trick here is to stop your brain from running down the same old path. Once it starts to, it’s tough to stop it.
If you’ve ever tried to think of a different answer for a problem and found yourself banging away at the same thing, you’ve experienced the brain preferring to follow a familiar path. At times like this, we say stuff like “Sleep on it” or “Get a fresh perspective” or “Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it”.
What we mean is stop the brain from beating the same path. Sleep provides a convenient break. A second person’s view is useful because it’s different from yours. They’ll ultimately strike the same brain limitations as you, but in their brain, with a different path. Our goal, for us and our kids, is to learn to do it ourselves.
Great coaches tend to have a few things in common. They know their players extremely well and in as many life domains as possible. As parents, you also do this. This allows a coach to tailor what they do to different players, in the same way that parents know that siblings respond to different rewards and discipline.
But what’s critical in this arena, is that coaches stay close to their players, and give regular, timely, frequent, specific and direct feedback on performance. Also, remember, we’re working on a skill, so if I’m teaching a player something, there’s no point watching them all week and then giving feedback. As often as possible, it needs to be in the moment. Here they are again:
Way back in the day you’ll recall we covered a few posts on Reinforcement. We’re using some of the same thinking here, strengthening some behaviors, weakening others. In particular, we talked about some general principles of reinforcement when we’re giving feedback. Take a quick look when you get a minute.
In dealing with attributions, the same applies. When you note yourself making attributions, see kids making attributions, or a situation that you know means they’re going to, seize the moment as soon as you can, looking for examples of the three components we’ve talked about.
At each attribution-making point, you have an opportunity to provide alternatives. This is key. We need to interrupt the process, insert ourselves into it, and make it a conversation. It’s not about blame, but about feedback and learning a skill.
And there’s a knack, which we’ll come to next time.
So here’s the take home bit
We have to be good enough at understanding attributions to see them happening. When we do, we need to be ready to dive in and break open what’s usually an internal process, inside my own mind, into a conversation. This is the important coaching bit. Naturally, it requires that there’s trust, and that the coach knows what they’re on about.
We then need to be able to give immediate feedback on what we see, and to be able to offer useful, forward-moving questions and comments, in order to elicit the best response. Best place to start practising is yourself.
So, homework for this time. Write down your attributions. When you find yourself making them, write them down. When you see someone else in a situation, imagine yourself there instead of them and write down what attributions you’re likely to make in that situation.
This way, you’ll understand the skill, and be able to coach kids through different options with a couple of quick techniques we’ll do next.
Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat
Internal Attributions, External Attributions, Global Attributions, Specific Attributions, Stable Attributions, Unstable Attributions
Tell me what you’ve seen?
Want more? Subscribe for FREE (top right) to get Bite sized brains in your inbox. Do someone a favor and pass it on.