Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

The ability to focus is an important driver of excellence. Focused techniques such as to-do lists, timetables, and calendar reminders all help people to stay on task. Few would argue with that, and even if they did, there is evidence to support the idea that resisting distraction and staying present have benefits: practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day, for example, can enhance leadership effectiveness by helping you become more able to regulate your emotions and make sense of past experiences. Yet as helpful as focus can be, there’s also a downside to focus as it is commonly viewed.

The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.

So what do we do then? Focus or unfocus?

In keeping with recent research, both focus and unfocus are vital. The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.

When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the “default mode network.” Abbreviated as the DMN, we used to think of this circuit as the Do Mostly Nothing circuit because it only came on when you stopped focusing effortfully. Yet, when “at rest”, this circuit uses 20% of the body’s energy (compared to the comparatively small 5% that any effort will require).

The DMN needs this energy because it is doing anything but resting. Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas. Using this new and previously inaccessible data, you develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too. The DMN also helps you tune into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.

There are many simple and effective ways to activate this circuit in the course of a day.

Using positive constructive daydreaming (PCD): PCD is a type of mind-wandering different from slipping into a daydream or guiltily rehashing worries. When you build it into your day deliberately, it can boost your creativity, strengthen your leadership ability, and also-re-energize the brain. To start PCD, you choose a low-key activity such as knitting, gardening or casual reading, then wander into the recesses of your mind.

But unlike slipping into a daydream or guilty-dysphoric daydreaming, you might first imagine something playful and wishful—like running through the woods, or lying on a yacht. Then you swivel your attention from the external world to the internal space of your mind with this image in mind while still doing the low-key activity.

Studied for decades by Jerome Singer, PCD activates the DMN and metaphorically changes the silverware that your brain uses to find information. While focused attention is like a fork—picking up obvious conscious thoughts that you have, PCD commissions a different set of silverware—a spoon for scooping up the delicious mélange of flavors of your identity (the scent of your grandmother, the feeling of satisfaction with the first bite of apple-pie on a crisp fall day), chopsticks for connecting ideas across your brain (to enhance innovation), and a marrow spoon for getting into the nooks and crannies of your brain to pick up long-lost memories that are a vital part of your identity.

In this state, your sense of “self” is enhanced—which, according to Warren Bennis, is the essence of leadership. I call this the psychological center of gravity, a grounding mechanism (part of your mental “six-pack”) that helps you enhance your agility and manage change more effectively too.

Taking a nap: In addition to building in time for PCD, leaders can also consider authorized napping. Not all naps are the same. When your brain is in a slump, your clarity and creativity are compromised. After a 10-minute nap, studies show that you become much clearer and more alert. But if it’s a creative task you have in front of you, you will likely need a full 90 minutes for more complete brain refreshing. Your brain requires this longer time to make more associations, and dredge up ideas that are in the nooks and crannies of your memory network.

Pretending to be someone else: When you’re stuck in a creative process, unfocus may also come to the rescue when you embody and live out an entirely different personality. In 2016, educational psychologists, Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar found that people who try to solve creative problems are more successful if they behave like an eccentric poet than a rigid librarian. Given a test in which they have to come up with as many uses as possible for any object (e.g. a brick) those who behave like eccentric poets have superior creative performance. This finding holds even if the same person takes on a different identity.

When in a creative deadlock, try this exercise of embodying a different identity. It will likely get you out of your own head, and allow you to think from another person’s perspective. I call this psychological halloweenism.

For years, focus has been the venerated ability amongst all abilities. Since we spend 46.9% of our days with our minds wandering away from a task at hand, we crave the ability to keep it fixed and on task. Yet, if we built PCD, 10- and 90- minute naps, and psychological halloweenism into our days, we would likely preserve focus for when we need it, and use it much more efficiently too. More importantly, unfocus will allow us to update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.

By: Srini Pillay

Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

Source: Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus

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Srini Pillay, M.D. is an executive coach and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group. He is also a technology innovator and entrepreneur in the health and leadership development sectors, and an award-winning author. His latest book is Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a part-time Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education, and is on internationally recognized think tanks.

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A depressed senior man lying in bed cannot sleep from insomnia

You land in your body with a start, or else it slowly comes into groggy focus: either way it’s night-time, but you are now awake. Why? Alice Gregory, a psychology professor at Goldsmiths, University of London and the author of Nodding Off, says it’s quite normal to wake up during the night.

After dropping off, we move through different stages of sleep, a cycle that takes the average adult about 90 minutes to complete and speeds up towards morning.

“The night is also punctuated by brief awakenings,” says Gregory. “Typically, people return to sleep without realizing that they had ever been awake.” But sometimes we might at least be more aware of it, or pulled entirely awake. Reasons range from the fairly obvious (being too hot or cold, needing the loo, having a nightmare, a crying baby) to the medical (disordered breathing such as sleep apnea, or nocturia: excessive night-time urination).

Waking up during the night does not necessarily mean you have insomnia, which, says Gregory, is diagnosed alongside other criteria such as the frequency of this occurrence and how long it has been happening. “If you find yourself waking regularly during the night, certainly flag this with your GP so they can consider any possible underlying causes.”

Still, sleep deprivation takes its own toll, from irritability and reduced focus in the short term, to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. If you do find yourself regularly waking up without any apparent reason – what can you do about it?

“It’s a misconception that we sleep the night through – nobody ever does,” says the sleep coach Katie Fischer. Waking as much as five or seven times a night is not necessarily a cause for concern – the most important thing is how you feel when you get up. “In the morning, do you feel refreshed, or groggy and unable to function, 30 minutes after waking?”

If there is nothing to suggest an underlying medical issue, Fischer will look at the bigger picture with a patient. “It’s really important to know if they have children. Do they have a partner who snores, or works shifts?” she says. “They might not have their own sleep issues but they might be sleeping next to someone who does.”

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Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, even for people suffering from sleep apnoea (although that should be treated by a specialist). It is hackneyed to point the finger at caffeine, but people tend to underestimate how long its effects can last – Fischer says to stop consuming it by 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Water intake during the day is also a factor: “Even going to bed mildly dehydrated can disrupt our sleep.”

Similarly, although people commonly turn to alcohol to help them fall asleep – Fischer says one in 10 use it as a sleep aid – it has a disruptive effect beyond the initial crash, causing spikes in blood sugar and cortisol levels. Diet can function in the same way, with “anti-sleep foods” that are high in sugar or cause flatulence or heartburn (such as broccoli and cabbage).

A “pro-sleep” bedtime snack is a small amount of complex carbohydrates and protein, such as wholegrain cereal with milk, or toast with peanut butter, says Fischer. An “anti-inflammatory” diet favouring fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds and healthy fats (and limiting processed foods, red meats and alcohol) has been shown to improve sleep apnea.

As for exercise, although being active during the day aids sleep, anything strenuous is to be avoided before bedtime. A lot of advice for preventing night-time “awakenings” falls under the umbrella of what has come to be known as “good sleep hygiene”: restrict the bedroom to sleep and sex, ban screens emitting blue light, keep to regular bedtimes and so on.

Our bedrooms – even our beds – have come to double as home cinemas, offices, “a dining room, maybe,” says the sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor. “You would be amazed at how significant that is for sleep. You’re training to associate your bed with wakefulness.” For that reason, if you do struggle to fall back asleep on waking up during the night, the advice is to get up for a bit. “Don’t just lie there – it’s counterproductive.”

So, too, is looking at the clock, especially if it doubles as your phone. “As soon as your brain has registered that it’s 2 a.m., you convince yourself that that’s your lot,” says Taylor. Such worry loops might be waking you up in the first place.

For many of us, bedtime might be our first opportunity of the day to be alone with our thoughts, she says. “It’s connected to waking in the night because, if we haven’t had any processing time during the day, it’s the first time we stop and just be.” Managing stress and anxiety during waking hours and learning how to relax body and mind are key to a good night’s sleep – but ironically, fixating on getting your full eight hours can make it harder to achieve. “You get this awful self-fulfilling prophecy that’s quite hard to break,” says Fischer.

A mindset change may be what’s needed. “People might have this belief that they are a ‘bad sleeper’ and there is nothing that they can do about it. Sometimes it’s about changing people’s perceptions of what good sleep looks like.” Taylor says she “really cannot bear” fitness trackers, which monitor sleep, for focusing people’s minds on often inaccurate data. It is wrong to assume that you must sleep through the night, every night, she says. “We all have blips in our sleep – it’s never going to be that you sleep brilliantly all the time.”

But accepting that – even as you lie awake, hours before dawn – might be the first step towards it.

By: Elle Hunt

Source: The Guardian

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How To Retrain Your Frazzled Brain and Find Your Focus Again

Are you finding it harder than ever to concentrate? Don’t panic: these simple exercises will help you get your attention .

Picture your day before you started to read this article. What did you do? In every single moment – getting out of bed, turning on a tap, flicking the kettle switch – your brain was blasted with information. Each second, the eyes will give the brain the equivalent of 10m bits (binary digits) of data. The ears will take in an orchestra of sound waves. Then there’s our thoughts: the average person, researchers estimate, will have more than 6,000 a day. To get anything done, we have to filter out most of this data. We have to focus.

Focusing has felt particularly tough during the pandemic. Books are left half-read; eyes wander away from Zoom calls; conversations stall. My inability to concentrate on anything – work, reading, cleaning, cooking – without being distracted over the past 18 months has felt, at times, farcical.

The good news? We can learn to focus better, but we need to think about attention differently. It is not something we can just choose to do. We have to train the brain like a muscle. Specifically, with short bursts of daily exercises.

Dr Amishi Jha is a professor of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience at the University of Miami and an expert in the science of attention. She has written a book called Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a four-week training programme based on her research showing how simple mindfulness exercises carried out by people with high-demand jobs, such as soldiers, elite athletes and emergency medics, improve many aspects of cognitive and emotional health, including strengthening our attention.

‘Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,’ says Dr Amishi Jha. Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

When I first opened Peak Mind, I set a timer to see how long it would take me to feel the pull of social media. Three minutes in, I check Twitter. I tell Jha this and she erupts with laughter. “Oh, that’s fantastic,” she says.

I tell her this distractibility has made me anxious. She nods patiently. “There is nothing wrong with your attention, even if you feel more distracted right now. That is a healthy response to your current situation. To think otherwise is just false,” she says. “We’re in a crisis because our attention works so well. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: respond powerfully to certain stimuli.”

Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to focusing, says Jha. In a high-alert state, we often start ruminating and catastrophising. We get stuck in “loops of doom” or imagined scenarios. This mode impacts our “working memory”: the amount of information that can be held in our minds and used for a task. For example, choosing the words to put together in an email, or reading a page in a book.

“Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,” says Jha. When that whiteboard is full of thoughts, feelings and images relating to what’s making us stressed, there is no room for new information. We might start blanking, zoning out or snapping at our partners, then feel guilty, which makes focusing even harder.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention

Jha began thinking differently about mindfulness when she experienced her own “crisis of attention” (“a blaring, unrelenting onslaught of mental chatter,” she writes) that reduced her ability to feel present with her small children.

So she came up with some simple practices “that exercise the brain in ways that it is prone to being weakened”. These short bursts of mindfulness training each day can help us notice the traffic of our thoughts and urges, and develop what Jha calls the “mental muscle” to observe, rather than act.

I admit that I am sceptical. Even as a trainee psychotherapist (with a vested interest in learning to be present) I find it hard to believe that something so stark, that we can do by ourselves, can help focus a mind that feels scrambled by multiple lockdowns, political divisiveness or economic uncertainty.

I start by setting a timer for three minutes each day, instead of the recommended 12 – a smaller “dose”, encouraged by Jha, to get used to it. The first exercise involves sitting upright, closing your eyes and focusing on where your breathing feels most prominent, usually in the chest or diaphragm. Direct your focus here like a beam and notice when thoughts or sensations pull it away: a memory bubbling up; a reminder that you need to reply to a text; an itch. The point is noticing when the “flashlight” moves, then moving it back. That’s it.

From the beginning, this flashlight image is one of the most useful mindfulness tools I’ve used. After three days, I start to notice when I am being pulled away from trying to focus on something (reading is trickiest for me). I am noticing when my focus is ruptured, which feels new.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth, says Jha: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention. You have to practise. “The notion of an unwavering mind is a fantasy,” she says. The problem is that we now have far more sources of distraction. We are not just recipients of content, but willing participants. Despite how often we are encouraged to “unplug” from our devices, we cannot outwit the algorithms designed by armies of software engineers, statisticians and psychologists.

More unsettling is how we need our phones to rescue us from our phones. The global mindfulness meditation apps market size is expected to reach over $4.2bn by 2027. But in stepping back and learning why our attention can feel so slippery – rather than reaching for another attention-sucking app – perhaps we can assuage some of the difficult emotions associated with being distracted.

In week two, Jha introduces the “body scan”. Using the flashlight to move through the body, from toes to scalp, you are encouraged to notice what physical sensations are there. Whenever the mind wanders, return it to the area of the body where the attention was before the wandering.

Even in three-minute bursts, my mind fizzes with words, people, places and feelings. I tell Jha that I have to move my flashlight back so many times, I wonder if it will ever feel easier. “You’re doing great!” she says. “You have introduced something new and it can take time to get used to it. But know that it will get better.”

After a fortnight of doing the exercises, I notice that being able to carve a little sliver of space between myself and the contents of my mind means I am able to divert my attention back to what I need to do more easily. The body scan exercise has given me a new awareness of how distracted I am by physical sensations (a cramp; a gurgle; an itch). It is hard to explain how significant this layer of awareness is unless you’ve tried it.

I am going to carry on with the exercises, with a view to building up to the 12-minute daily dose, because something is shifting in my relationship with my thoughts. I begin another book after I finish Jha’s and reset my timer. It takes me 23 minutes to open Twitter. That’s progress.

Attention, please: five ways to focus better

1 Pay attention to your breath, and where on your body you feel it most: direct your focus like a beam of light. Do this for three minutes a day, for a week.

2 Integrate this technique into everyday life – for example, brushing your teeth. If you’re thinking about your to-do list as you’re scrubbing, bring the light back. Focus on the sensations.

3 A lot of people report that their mind is “too busy.” Your job is not to stop it – your job is to exist with it, and to place your attention back where you want it.

4 Ignore “mindfulness myths”: you are not “clearing your mind.” This is an active mental workout.

5 There is no “blissed-out” state you are aiming to experience; in fact, the whole point is to be more present to the moment.

By: Eleanor Morgan

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/

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  1. “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021”. Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 4 October 2021.

Further reading

Is Your Relationship With Money Holding You Back?

Mel H. Abraham, the host of The Affluent Entrepreneur Show, often hears clients tell him, “I’m having some money issues because …” What follows “because” could be any number of reasons, but in Abraham’s book, money issues are often a symptom and not the actual problem. “The fact is your current financial situation is a result of your past decisions,” he explains.

So, when his clients take a moment to honestly examine their decisions and habits surrounding money, he often sees some of the seeds of where they are today — things like how much they did or didn’t save, what they typically spend their money on, and whether their relationship with money is toxic.

The reality, says Abraham, is that we are often conditioned to have limiting beliefs about money from a very young age. Money is not something we talk about or are taught about in school. And unless you intentionally seek to learn about money, your primary source of learning is observation. “The question, though, is: Who are you observing?” Abraham asks.

Most of our money education comes from our surroundings, aka parents, friends, and neighbors, as well as conversations we’ve overheard or what the media has told us. “Were they the best source of financial information and financial education?”

Based on these observations, we unconsciously create beliefs about money, and these beliefs form what Abraham refers to as our “money identity.” That identity could spur from things as simple as hearing a parent say, “We can’t afford that,” which could lead you to start believing that money is scarce and that you need to be afraid of spending any money at all.

You could have grown up hearing that “people who have money are greedy,” which might make you not want to work as diligently, or that “money is not important,” which can lead to brushing off the financial side of your life.

As you get older, these limiting beliefs can intensify. And Thomas Creel, the founder and owner of Creel Financial LLC, says these common toxic money thoughts can lead to everything from preventing you from asking for a raise you deserve to overspending, putting off saving for retirement, or staying in debt. He shares the following as examples of limited money beliefs:

• “I’ll never be good with money, so why even try?”

• “My friends seem to be doing well with money; something must be wrong with me.”

• “As long as I can pay my bills every month, I can spend the rest on having fun.”

• “Life is too short; I’ll worry about retirement when I get older.”

• “Only going out with my friends and spending money is when we have fun.”

• “My friends wouldn’t want to hang out with me if we did something for free.”

• “My parents never talked about money, so I guess I won’t talk about it either.”

• “If I lose all my money, then my parents will just give me more.”

• “Money is the cause of all the world’s problems; therefore, I never want to be wealthy.”

When it comes to money conversations, Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, the chief science officer for Happy Money, sees many parallels to the evolving conversation about mental health. “In the past, there was more of a stigma that kept many from sharing openly about their mental health struggles,” she says.

“Thankfully, that is changing, but when it comes to conversations about debt, income, and other money topics, it seems that we are still very reluctant to discuss our finances.” Getting in tune with your financial beliefs is one of the very best ways to start repairing your relationship with money.

Here are some expert-backed ways to begin repairing your relationship with money:

View money as just a tool

Creel likes to look at money as a tool in the same way that you would view a hammer as a tool. “You can either use the hammer to build a useful shelf for your home, or you could use the hammer to break things. It’s the same thing with money,” he explains. And just like how you have to learn how to swing a hammer, you have to learn how to use money to build the life you want.

Let go of the belief that “money is complicated or confusing”

“This often leads to not trying to learn about money because you believe it is beyond you — which it isn’t,” says Abraham. But if you don’t do anything to increase your understanding of money, you cannot feel better about your relationship with money. “All money skills are learnable, but without effort, we can fall into complacency, and complacency with money, which is the first step toward crisis,” Abraham explains.

Creel says it’s likely that you weren’t ever formally taught how to handle your money, and this is probably the reason you aren’t managing it correctly. “No one is taught how to use their money, and that’s what gets us into trouble,” he explains. “So, give yourself grace and know that wherever you’re at in your journey with money, there’s always something you can do to get better with it and improve your situation.”

Challenge your upbringing

Creel asks clients to take inventory of their childhood perceptions of money and question any limiting beliefs that they may have formed about it. “Ask yourself, ‘When it came to how my parents handled money, what did I learn from them?’ Talk with close friends and see what answers come up,” he says. This will likely bring up some common themes, like “money is hard to save” or “only people with X type of job have the ability to have a lot of money.” Next, ask yourself, “Am I sure that these beliefs are true?” “What are some other possible outcomes that could be true?” asks Creel.

Create some positive money affirmations

Come up with several empowering affirmations that you can say to yourself every morning that can help change your thoughts around money. Creel suggests the following:

• “I am capable of overcoming any money obstacles that stand in my way.”

• “I’m not poor; I’m just low in wealth right now. That is changing.”

• “I can conquer my money goals.”

Realize that your money situation can change

You might be strapped for cash at the moment, but a new job, a period of diligent saving, or a raise could change all of that, and quickly. “Remembering that much of what feels overwhelming in life, and with finances, is temporary is a good first step to overcoming anxiety when managing your finances,” explains Lauren Anastasio, a certified financial planner at SoFi. Try to shift your mindset and remind yourself that debt doesn’t have to last forever. “Keep your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel,” Anastasio says.

Find a budget buddy

Understanding that the emotions you are going through are very real, and most likely have been felt by people you know, can be a comfort. “Talking to your partner, a close friend, or family member about what is going on may help you let go of guilt, shame, and financial anxiety,” says Anastasio.

Your budget buddy can be your cheerleader when you need it and motivate you whenever you get frustrated or discouraged. “Whether this person is a financial professional or a trusted friend whose financial choices you admire, he or she can also offer tips to help you be savvier with your money,” Anastasio adds.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Nobody is perfect, and comparison, says Anastasio, is the thief of joy. “It can be difficult to avoid making assumptions about how others are faring financially based on our social-media intake, but just because a friend is posting about their exotic vacations or a neighbor seems to be doing one luxury home renovation after another does not mean they’re experiencing success while you’re not,” she says.

Find the joy

While making money technically involves work, it doesn’t have to be a miserable, nonstop hustle. “Part of healing our relationship to money is not only believing that we are capable of making it, but believing that pursuing money and pursuing happiness, balance, and peace are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re mutually constitutive,” says Rachel Rodgers, the author of We Should All Be Millionaires and the CEO of Hello Seven.

While it’s true that “money can’t always buy you happiness,” it can definitely fund things like travel, new classes, and other passions you may have, enriching your life, and it can ease stress and increase your freedom. So, as you work through your limiting beliefs and grow throughout your financial journey, Rodgers says to remember to have fun and enjoy yourself along the way.

Tune in to your spending emotions

“Track what you spend and how it makes you feel so you can decide what’s worth it to you and what’s not,” suggests Dunn. Pay attention to how purchases affect your mood in order to identify what Dunn refers to as your “happy and sad spends.” By understanding how your money choices impact your mental and emotional well-being, you can start to shift your spending toward what makes you truly happy — such as paying down debt, savoring a treat, investing in an experience, or helping another person. “This mindfulness approach will help you get even more joy from your happy spends,” Dunn says.

Focus on your goals, not the dollars

When it comes to priorities, money can help you get there but shouldn’t be your primary focus. Robin Saks Frankel, a personal finance expert at Forbes Advisor, says it’s important to take time to evaluate what your goals are, not just with money but also with your life as a whole. “If you want to have a partner and children, for example, or you want to make a career change, those goals cannot be attained or measured by how much money you do or don’t have in the bank,” she says.

Nicole is a freelance writer published in The New York Times, AARP, Woman’s Day, Parade, Men’s Journal, Wired, Emmy Magazine, and more. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter at @nicolepajer.

Source: Is Your Relationship With Money Holding You Back?

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Desjardins, Jeff (December 15, 2015). “Infographic: The Properties of Money”. The Money Project. Ret

How Cultural Forces Shape Parenting Around the World

So much parenting advice focuses on the slog of the early years: How to manage sleep, feeding, tantrums, and the like. And while much of these efforts are in service of a long-term goal—raising an adult human you can be proud of—there’s much less out there that addresses life with that human as they come into their own.

Novelist Yang Huang explores that space in her latest book, My Good Son, allowing the reader to observe how parenting has shaped father and son, especially as some of the more complex, even morally questionable questions arise in the son’s burgeoning adulthood. Add in the setting—post-Tiananmen China—and a cleverly-positioned American father-son relationship to serve as the foil, and it’s a loving and intricate study of what it means to be a good Chinese parent.

Here, Huang turns her gaze to how different cultures approach the measure of being a “good parent,” sharing her research on how geography and traditions inform the many ways families grow and thrive. She explains:

“Although all of my fiction talks about parenting from both the parents’ and children’s perspectives, I have not read a book on parenting before! Finding parenting stories around the world opens my eyes and also affirms my values in many ways.”

A Lost Secret: How to Get Kids to Pay Attention

Yang Huang: “Don’t just blame a child’s short attention span on video games. Perhaps we can learn from Maya parenting—they motivate children to pay attention by giving them autonomy. When a child is setting the goal, they also learn to manage their own attention, rather than relying on adults to tell them what to do.”

I Spent 7 Years Studying Dutch Parenting—Here Are 6 Secrets to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World

YH: “Dutch parents raise the happiest children, in no small part helped by the government policies. Still, there are many things Americans can learn from, such as the family eating breakfast together, and children biking in all weathers. The Dutch have high ambitions for their children and see happiness as a means to success, the gateway to self-awareness, intrinsic motivation, independence, and positive ties with their communities.”

The Peril of Surplus Safety: Giving Kids Room to Become Adults [WATCH]

YH: “Children are drawn to things that we adults fear. We want to protect them and childproof their lives away. But does it work? People in Norway, Japan, and many other cultures, believe that the greatest safety precaution you can give a child is to let them take risks, so they can hone their judgement about what is safe and what is not, physically, emotionally, and socially.”

L’éducation “à la Française” [WATCH]

YH: “Here, an American journalist and mother speaks about what she learned from French parenting. (She’s speaking French, but the subtitles are in English.) She appeals to a French audience without pandering to them, and admits that American parenting aims to speed up the stages of our children’s development, calling it ‘a giant race from the cradle.’ Fortunately, she learns to parent with conventional French wisdom, which she summarizes into eight phrases: Hello, wait, be wise, you have to try it, balance, autonomy, it’s my decision, and poop sausage. Simple, right? Hear how she interprets them with glee and humility.”

Toilet Training at 2 Is Normal in U.S. But Very Late in China and Other Countries

YH: “Toilet training is a milestone in child-rearing. Compare the practices in first vs. third world countries, and gain a sobering perspective on nature vs. nurture, economics, and politics.”

A Chinese-Canadian to His Parents: ‘Privately, I Yearned for Your Love’

YH: “Before becoming Marvel’s first Asian superhero, Canadian actor Simu Liu had a childhood strikingly similar to mine, although we are not the same generation and grew up in different continents. His teenage angst mirrors my character Feng in my novel My Good Son. In broad strokes, Liu tells a timeless Chinese parenting story where a child learns to transform their anger and resentment into understanding and admiration for their parents. And that is a superhero feat.”

Letter From Africa: Parenting Culture Clash

YH: “In Ghana, children are taught to call an elder person with a title of respect like uncle or auntie. A teenager can enjoy being coddled, while their parents make the big decisions for them. What an indulgence! But with a price. It is similar in China, which led me to explore a clash of generations in My Good Son.”

What American Parents Can Learn From Chinese Philosophy

YH: “More Christine Gross-Loh here, this time about how kids relate to each other and the world. The Chinese philosophers saw the world as one of endless, shifting relationships—we have influence over the trajectory of our lives when we focus on learning how to relate well to others. Caring for one another is hard, albeit rewarding work. This is not just how our children will become better people and live better lives—it is how they can create a better world.”

Motherhood Around the World

YH: “This series on Cup of Jo features firsthand accounts of Americans parenting abroad as well as locals sharing how their home country approaches different aspects of raising children. I especially liked reading how one South African mother raises her mixed-raced child to be trilingual and specifically not colorblind in a culturally diverse environment with a wide socioeconomic gap. Also, this Colorado mom, now in Jordan, who shares her experience getting to know local Muslim women and their approach to food, soothing babies, and friendship.”

By: Yang Huang

Source: How Cultural Forces Shape Parenting Around the World

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