When you hear the term success, you may be thinking about work and careers, or about how much money a person makes. But success is more than work or what a person owns, we experience success and failure in our day to day lives, and these experiences influence our motivation, and our likelihood to keep doing something, or to just drop it. So in terms of parenting, understanding the psychology of success is important, because the successes we experience being parents, and how we interpret and deal with failure, will shape how we choose to parent ongoing into the future.
Success And Failure
It probably seems quite straightforward, but when you experience success, it motivates you to keep doing that behaviour. Likewise, failure generally tells us to stop doing that behaviour. But why does this happen? Well going back to our survival instincts, positive experiences generally indicate that things are safe, and so we want to keep doing the same behaviour to maintain that sense of security. Positive experiences also release chemicals in the brain that make us feel good, so we want to keep experiencing this natural high.
Similarly, failure or negative experiences tell us that things are not safe and to avoid those experiences in the future. Our brain gets flushed with stress hormones that we also want to avoid. Now in the context of life and death survival situations, this makes sense and is very helpful. But in the context of parenting, it can at times work against us.
How Does It Affect Being A Parent?
Being a parent is a tough gig, and a lot of the decisions we make as a parent are based on our gut instinct. Some of these go well, and some of them not so well. As an experienced parent, you tend to trust your gut more and you just ‘know’ what to do (even if it doesn’t seem like it), whereas as a new parent you have to learn to trust your instincts.
So these small, daily successes are what actually allow us to trust ourselves and our decisions, and although each success may seem small, when all combined together they encourage us to keep doing what we are doing and eventually trust our decisions as a parent.
When it becomes a challenge is when we experience ‘failure’ as a parent, when our decisions don’t quite go the way we thought they would. If these occur too frequently, and we aren’t able to reason through these occurrences, then we can begin to question our choices and, if not sorted out early enough, it can lead to difficulties such as anxiety or depression, or excessive feelings of guilt.
Feeling Success: Reflect On Your Day
When I work with people, one of the biggest skill sets I look at exploring is being able to reflect on our experiences: thinking about both of our successes and failures and what we can learn from each of these. Whether this be at work, for a sporting event, study or parenting, reflection is an important skill to practice.
So what are the key elements to reflecting on your day?
- Highlight your successes first. Our brains like to focus on what has gone wrong, and forget about what went well. So start off thinking about what has gone well to give yourself a boost.
- Then, think about why it went well. If you can figure out why (was it because you trusted yourself? because you practiced a new skill?) then it gives you something that you can do again in the future to keep feeling that success! (mind hack: don’t put it down to luck or it being a good day, think of something you did that contributed to the success).
- After this, think about what didn’t go so well. But the key here is to focus on what is in our control, versus what isn’t in our control (this is called Locus of Control if you want to read up further on it).
- Don’t dwell on what isn’t in your control, but acknowledge that it is there. Instead, focus on what is in your control, what you have learned from this event and what you can do differently next time to get a better outcome.
- If you are ready to, try to be able to see humour in your day and reflect on that too. Maybe something funny happened, or maybe you are laughing at some of you minor failures. Either way, being able to laugh about your day will help you feel better, and will reduce the negative impact these failures can have on us.
Feeling Success: Set Some Goals
Goal setting, you have probably been told before that if you want to succeed you need to have goals. The same can be said for parenting. But this doesn’t mean you need to set big goals or long term parenting goals, I tend to recommend focusing on small daily goals when it comes to parenting. You see, most parents have similar long term goals (i.e. my child feels loved and supported, they get a good education, they grow up happy and healthy) and these are perfect, so focusing on long term outcomes isn’t really important in the beginning. This also doesn’t mean you need to do this everyday (that would be exhausting!), but rather when you have had a bad day or are feeling not on top of your A-game then setting goals for the next day can be helpful to get that confidence or motivation back.
So what type of goals would you set? Well this will vary parent to parent, but your goals should have some key components:
- They are small enough to be achievable (based on your own circumstances). Don’t set a big task like ‘I will take my baby out to 3 shopping centres, bake a cake and go for a jog’ if you know that on a good day it’s hard enough going to one shop! Small goals may seem pointless, but when you achieve the goal and ‘tick’ it off your list, your brain will still receive that hit of all the good chemicals in the brain (your brain is a sucker for the good stuff, so it will take any win no matter how small).
- Don’t set too many goals for the day. If you set 10 goals and achieve 2, your brain will think you have failed. But if you set 3 tasks and complete 2, it will think you’ve done well (as long as you focus on your success).
- Set goals that are in your control. So don’t set a goal like ‘baby will have a good day’, because baby may wake up as a monster and no matter what you do will be cranky with you. A goal like ‘I will read 3 books to baby’ is more appropriate instead (and if your baby likes being read to, then it may make then happy anyway!).
- Finally, be specific. We don’t want anything like ‘I will try to get something done in the house today’. Instead, set a goal like ‘I will pack away 3 toys once baby has gone to sleep’. When we set specific goals, our brain is more likely to remember the goal and follow through with it compared with vague goals.
Go Easy On Yourself, You’re Doing An Awesome Job
As parents, we are all a bit too hard on ourselves. There is no handbook, each journey is different, each child is different and only like 10% of everything you read out there probably applies to your circumstance. So learn to go easy on yourself. We are our own worse critics, and if we can conquer our own internal judgements, then it makes parenting that little bit easier. For me personally, when I feel like I’ve dropped the ball, or if I feel like I’m not achieving what I set out to (whether that’s at work, as a parent, a husband or even when I game), I take the time to figure out why and set what I can do differently next time. Achieving these small goals I set gives me a much-needed boost to the self-esteem, but it also helps me refocus and get my head out of any perceived failures.
So take a few moments to reflect on your day, congratulate yourself on what you did well, learn from any mistakes, and find something to laugh at. Then set some goals for your next day and tell yourself you are doing a great job. And besides, parenting fails today usually make good stories later on.
Do you have any parenting fails you look back on and have a laugh? Feel free to share them below!
As always, any advice taken from this post is of a general nature and doesn’t take into consideration your personal circumstances. If you require support specific to your needs, please speak with a psychologist, counsellor, doctor or other relevant health professional.