[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Kevin Kruse: Whether we're leading our team at work or leading our kids at home, there are some things we just shouldn't do. Today on the show I talked to Amy Morin, who I adore. She actually Skyped me from her houseboat. She's now living down in the Florida Keys, which sounds amazing. We talk about one thing managers shouldn't do, advice for parents, and why we need to praise effort, not results. That's going to be our challenge of the day. Whether at work or at home, catch someone doing something right. Don't praise, don't recognize the successful outcome. Focus on what it took to get the outcome. Was it their hard work? Was it their attention to detail? Was it their ability to empathize and relate with others, or to stay patient and calm with that angry customer? Praise their activity, not the result.
The quote of the day, from Frederick Douglas, “It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” On that note, our guest today is a psychotherapist, a lecturer at Northeastern University, and a best selling author. Her first book, “Thirteen Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do,” came from an article that was read by more than 50 million people. Her new book teaches parents the unhealthy habits to avoid if you want to raise mentally strong kids. Her book's called, “Thirteen Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, Raising Selfisher Children and Training Their Brains for a Life of Happiness, Meaning, and Success.” Our guest is Amy Morin. Amy, welcome to the show.
Amy Morin: Thanks for having me.
Kruse: So, I have a tradition where I always ask our guest the same first question because I think our failure stories are powerful. They're always stepping stones to other things. They're not even really failures at all. You don't win or lose. It's like win or learn. I'm wondering, what's one of your best failure stories? What did you learn from it?
Morin: I think one of my best ones, fairly early on in my career as a writer. I was working as a psychotherapist. This writing thing was sort of new to me and I had an article that went viral. I wanted to capitalize on that but I didn't really know how. Lots of opportunities were coming my way. People saying, “You should do this,” or, “We want to partner with you for that.” I didn't really know what to do, which opportunities to take. I had two acquaintances whom I knew a little bit, at least over the internet we conversed. They advised me to go with this one company to partner with. They said, “We've done it. It’s worked out well, you should do it.” Because I had recommendations from them, I sort of took that at face value and thought, “Okay, this is the direction I'm going to go.” I didn't ask enough questions. I didn't do my due diligence researching this company. I just sort of jumped in and thought, “Okay, this will work out because these other two people, it worked out for them.” Bad idea. It didn't work out. It wasted tons of time.
Morin: Wasted a lot of my money. Even as we started out, I kept thinking, “Ah, I'm not sure this is going to work out,” but because those other two people insisted, “In the end it'll all come together,” so I kept going even when I had these red flags that said I shouldn't do it.
Morin: Ultimately, that company ended up going out of business and I'm not surprised. I was able to finish the project on my own. I liked the way it came out but I could have saved so much time and so much money if I would have just done it my way from the start. And so, from that, I learned how important it is to invest a lot of time up front, asking all the questions, doing my research on background information.
While recommendations from other people are great, just because it works for them doesn't mean it's going to work for my business. And to really just invest a lot more time looking into things, and also to pay attention. When I run into those red flags early on, [I’ve learned] to get out if it's not going to work for me, rather than just keep digging a deeper hole.
Kruse: I'm going to use your words to remind me. This continues to be a big failure of mine. Where somebody, online friend, tells me to go do something. I just rush into it. I'm very trusting. It's like, “Ah, just send me the whole invoice up front and we'll avoid those hassles.”
Kruse: Then you pay the bill and it's like, “Oh, this is going bad. I should have done that homework up front.” So, let's dive in. Before we talk about your new book, in the spirit of mentally strong people don't do different things, what about when it comes to managers in the workplace? What's something a mentally strong manager wouldn't do?
Morin: I think one of the biggest ones would be that they don't waste energy on things that they can't control. One of the big things you can't control is you can't control other people. You can influence them but you can't control them, or you can't always prevent bad things from happening. You can prepare for it but you can't stop it. So, for managers to put their energy into saying, “I'll influence people. I'm going to control my emotions, rather than trying to control how other people behave.” Or, “I will offer incentives or I will do my best to help motivate people, but ultimately, it's not my job to say “They have to do this.” If they don't do it, I can give them consequences but I can't always control the outcome. Then to put more energy into preparing for things, rather than sitting around wishing that they wouldn't happen or thinking, “What if, what if, what if,” when you can't control those what ifs. I think all of us can be much more powerful when we put our energy and our effort into the things that we can control. Then you don't waste so much mental energy and your physical time doing things that you really can't control in the end.
Kruse: This advice is really one of those key life secrets. Right? It's like stoicism or something where if you can't control it, don't let it get inside your head or trigger your emotions. Focus on the things you can control. That's great universal advice.
Morin: It is. It's easier said than done, but I think the more you get used to trying to practice it, the more you can let go of some of those things.
Kruse: Right. I mentioned in the intro, your new book is, Thirteen Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do. This is a follow up, of course, to your blockbuster article and book. You are now saying that these things that strong parents don't do, but how we can raise our children to be mentally strong as well. I'm a single dad with three kids. They're all teenagers. One's in college, one's almost off to college. My son will be with me for a while. I think I've done a pretty good job, Amy, of being a dad for the last 10 years, kind of raising them to be mentally strong. I'm checking off some things in your book. I'm like, “I wish I had this years ago as I started on this adventure.” We can't go into all of them but why don't you share a few of these things that mentally strong parents don't do? Maybe you've got some favorites or something.
Morin: Yeah. Through my work as a therapist and also, I'm a foster parent. I realized a lot of our most common parenting habits are not teaching kids the skills that they need. So, the first one, I think is important, which is that mentally strong parents don't condone a victim mentality. We live in a world where it's easy for kids to think if they strike out in the baseball game or if they get a F on their math test, that somehow they're a victim, it's the other person's fault, that life is unfair but we have to change that, or that they want parents to go to bat for them to advocate them.
A lot of parents feel that too. Where they feel like, “Your teacher's mean. That's why you got a bad grade.” Or, “That umpire treated you bad, that's why you struck out.” I think it's really important to teach kids that yeah, sometimes bad things happen. And yes, sometimes life isn't fair but that's okay. You can still make choices and you can still move forward in life without getting stuck and hung up on that. We don't want kids to grow up hosting pity parties every time they encounter some sort of hardship.
Kruse: Again, I have three kids. So, my middle one, Natalie, it's actually emotionally triggering to me every time she says the phrase, “It's not fair.” I'm like, “It might not be fair Natalie, and often life is not fair.” It's hard for me to be so cold. You feel guilty as a parent pushing back on that. That fairness really does seem to be there, especially middle child I think. What's another one?
Morin: Another big one, I think, is that mentally strong parents don't take responsibility for their child's emotions. It's so easy for us to regulate our kid's emotions. So, when they're sad, we cheer them up. When they're angry, we calm them down. When they're bored, we entertain them. We need to teach kids that they can do those things for themselves. So, whether you have a preschooler and you create a Calm Down Kit and you say, “Go get your Calm Down Kit,” and then give your child that responsibility to calm himself down. Or, if you have a teenager and you say, “Okay, when you are irritable and you're struggling and you've had a bad day, what can we do to lengthen your fuse?” Then make it your child's responsibility to do that for himself.
When we give those skills to kids, they're more equipped once they got out of the house to be able to control their emotions. There was a study that found that 60% of college kids said that, “I was academically prepared for college but I didn't have the emotional skills to deal with it.” I think that's quite telling. They're telling us, “We're getting out there in the real world and we don't know how to deal with disappointment, loneliness, and sadness. We need those skills.” I think it's important for parents to not take on that responsibility for doing that for kids.
Kruse: I hear, just from reading the articles and my friends, I was getting sad that my oldest was going off to college. They were like, “Don't worry, she'll be back in the house in three or four years.” Apparently, there's this thing where previous generations, we would all get our driver's license, get jobs, move out of the house as quickly as we could, often get married in our 20s or something. Now they're saying people in their 20s are moving back with their parents. They're not buying homes. A lot of them are not getting jobs or starting a real career. Is this just because of economic times? It's hard out there? Or do you think there's some emotional aspect to this that young adults aren't ready, as you were saying, to really face the real world?
Morin: I definitely think there's an emotional component to it. In fact, when they surveyed young people and said, “At what age did you feel like an adult,” a lot of them said 28.
Kruse: Oh my gosh.
Morin: That was the average age where people now feel like a grown up. Years ago, it was 18. Right?
Morin: You thought, “Okay, once I turn 18, I am an adult,” and I think people felt like an adult. Now we're saying, “Even when I have a college degree, I still don't feel grown up enough to go get my own place.” I think that's a huge component for a lot of young people about why they're moving home.
Kruse: Did you feel like an adult when you were 18?
Morin: Probably not 18.
Kruse: The truth comes out…
Morin: Right. I think by the time I was 21, I had graduated from college. I had a job. I was married when I was young. I had a house and lots of other things. I made a life for myself that helped me to become more grown up for sure.
Kruse: Yeah, I think there's a term and, or a book about ‘adulting’ to try to teach people how to be adults.
Kruse: All right, give me one more from your 13. What's another thing that mentally strong parents don't do?
Morin: I think number 13 is probably one of my other favorites, which is that they don't lose sight of their values. I think it's important to ask yourself questions. Like, would you rather that the teacher said you had the smartest kid in the class or the nicest kid in the class? It can be tough to come to grips with what are your values? Which would you actually prefer? It's okay whichever one it is that you prefer, but make sure you're giving your kids that message.
When they've interviewed teenagers to say, “What's most important to your parents,” the overwhelming majority of them said, “My parents want me to achieve more.” Then when they asked their parents, “What's the most important value in your life,” parents said, “I want my kid to be kind.” So then, parents had to figure out, “Well, how am I sending this message? Am I making homework the most important thing? Am I focusing so much on grades? Do I forget to talk about being nice, and kind, and generous, and helping people?”
Kruse: This conversation could start to get me to tear up because it's actually something … I always profile on those assessments as achievement oriented, a driver, I've been a serial entrepreneur and all that stuff. I think back to how I was raised. Yeah, I got attention from dad when I got straight A’s or when I did well in baseball or whatever, or being very good and polite also. That has shaped us. My kids, at one point I think, I caught myself and was like, “Okay, I'm giving them a lot of extra attention for that 4.0 or for that thing. I can't remember who it was but someone said, “Kevin, you're better off at that soccer game, don't make a big deal about the goal or even the win. Talk more about the effort and playing with heart and all these things. Don't make it about the outcome. Make it about the effort.” Is this sounding like good advice to you?
Morin: It is. That's it exactly because kids can't always control the outcome but they can control how much effort they put in. So, rather than saying, “Great job getting a 100 on that test,” to say something more like, “Great job studying so hard. Great job really putting your whole heart into that,” then kids know, “Okay, I don't always have to win. I don't always have to succeed. It's about my attitude and my effort.”
Kruse: Yeah, that's great. I try to tell my kids now, all I want for them is to be happy. I don't care whether they're working or not working, whatever they choose, hopefully they'll be happy. Amy, how can our listeners find out more about you, your work, and your new book?
Morin: The best place is my website, which is www.AmymoranLCSW.com.
Kruse: Well, we'll make sure we that in the show notes of course and in the articles. Amy, thanks so much for spending time with us and sharing your message with our audience on the LEADx show.
Morin: Thanks for having me.