Dec, 2021

We Do by Stan Tatkin

The Big Idea: a successful and long-lasting marriage requires acquiring skills such as: knowing how to communicate, knowing how to fight, knowing how to build a couple bubble, and knowing how to manage thirds

Introduction: Why Should You “We Do?”

42 percent of first marriages end in divorce.

If you want to beat the odds, what’s the best way? Prevention!

Research tells us that both our psychology and biology are major factors for predicting long-term relationship success.

The primary purpose of this book is early prevention.

In two-person psychological systems, both individuals need to understand and accept the same principles or complications will arise.


All successful long-term relationships are what I call secure-functioning relationships.

Think of it this way: the mark of a good couple is how much load bearing the partnership can take without crumbling.

You’re now a two-person system with interdependent nervous systems, wiring together like entangled ivy.

Partners who don’t collaborate often live separate lives, engage in a dictatorship, or live codependently.

If we did an autopsy on all failed relationships, the number of couples where at least one of the partners was ambivalent — either not all in or waiting for their partner to change — would be very high.

Nobody signs up for marriage because they want to be changed by their partner. It doesn’t work. Ever. Go all in or go home. Marriage and commitment can only work if we accept each other wholeheartedly.

Proper management of thirds means partners protect each other. Thirds can be people, pets, or things, including work, hobbies, or substances.

Your personal growth depends on your relationship remaining safe and secure at all times.

Both you and your partner must be clear on priorities and you must agree, otherwise there will be trouble.

I suggest that your highest priority should be the relationship.

The most important reason to marry is to become a thriving survival unit.


A couple bubble is a self-generating energy system that provides resources and protection to the couple.

In your couple bubble, you accept each other as is.

There’s a difference between letting your partner in on how your mind works and making him/her responsible for every negative thought that crosses your mind.

Internal mayhem creates an enormous disturbance in the couple bubble.

Massive sign of immaturity and a definite sign of a one-person psychological system.

Partners who focus solely on their individual needs aren’t collaborative.

Constant vigilance as to who is doing what, getting what, and losing what will strain any relationship.

Since you’re a two-person psychological system, being unnecessarily difficult will only blow back on you.

If you plan to become husband and wife, keep in mind that you must continue to be girlfriend and boyfriend.

A secure-functioning couple is made up of partners who are unafraid of each other; they don’t feel fear, apprehension, or intimidation around each other, and they don’t walk on eggshells.

Without a sense of humor the couple system can become rigid, overly serious, and brittle.

You also understand that in order for the two of you to move together, it can’t be at one person’s cost.

In a one-person model, a partner will put their individual needs before the relationship’s needs (and before their partner’s needs).

Secure-functioning relationships are two-person psychological systems where both parties feel respected, heard, and safe.

I prefer the word bargaining instead of compromising. In a bargain, both may need to give something to get something.

The use of fear, threat, guilt, or shame will only breed acrimony between you.

When you’re sick and your partner isn’t attentive, you tend to remember.

If you can’t show up for your partner who is in the hospital, getting bad news from a doctor, or going through a tough procedure or surgery, then what good are you?

Not good if you don’t accompany your partner to a close friend’s or family member’s funeral.

If you’re not there to witness and participate in your partner’s successes and celebrations, the reason had better be that you’re either trapped under heavy furniture or just simply dead.

In Stephen Covey’s marvelous audiobook How to Develop Your Family Mission Statement, he describes the importance of a family mission statement as vital to developing a shared notion of what the family should be.


We’re memory-driven, automatic, and reflexive creatures who act and react at whirlwind speeds and therefore without thought.

Imagine the brain is divided into two sections: primitives and ambassadors. As human beings, we need both our primitives and ambassadors to function properly to help us determine what’s true and false.

Partners who are right-leaning tend to see the world through a lens of emotion and meaning and not with the same calculated precision of those who are left-leaning.

Our brain has a negativity bias.

Once partners begin to perceive the relationship as long term, they depend (nonconsciously) on each other for nervous system regulation, which means balancing each other’s nervous system.

One of the best ways to engender exciting love is to make direct eye contact in close proximity (eye gazing).

A softer, more stable love experience is called quiet love.

Quiet love is closely related to gratitude, happiness, and contentment.

It’s important to quickly and effectively co-manage distress.

If you’re in distress too much of the time, the bad feelings you accrue begin to mitigate the good ones.


There are three main areas that cause conflict in relationships. I call them the troublesome triad — memory, perception, and communication.

Our memory isn’t what we think it is, and both people in a partnership need to own this truth.

Perception is like a funhouse mirror. It isn’t at all what you think.

Words mean different things to different people.

So many times I see partners arguing about two different things without even knowing it. That’s how easy it is for communication to go off the rails.

When a baby signals and the response takes too long, the baby’s level of distress increases and becomes part of the calculus for future signaling.

Insecure avoidant individuals tend to be low signalers and poor responders.

Some insecures tend to oversignal both verbally and nonverbally.

The best way to error-correct is to remain curious, friendly, flexible, humble, and open to being wrong. Your relationship’s integrity is what keeps you safe and secure, not your adherence to fact, righteousness, performance, or perfection.


Attachment styles determine how we connect, how we fight, and whether we value our self or our relationships first.

Attachment begins with our earliest caregiver, often referred to as the primary attachment figure.

Secure attachment means that the infant or child is confident that their primary caregiver(s) will appropriately respond to their needs.

An insecure attachment means the child is either unsure or is certain that their primary caregiver(s) will either be unresponsive, inappropriately responsive, or perhaps punitive in response to the child’s attempt to signal distress.

A secure infant, child, teenager, and adult feels confident in their connection to loved ones without fear of abandonment or engulfment.

Secure attachment is the result of a deeply relationship-centered value system in which relationship integrity is of central importance, whereas insecure attachment is the result of a self-centered value system where an individual’s need is of greater importance.

The anchor is the most secure.

In contrast, you have the island and the wave, both relatively insecure when in close, committed love relationships.

Islands and waves operate as one-person psychological systems of “me first.”

Think of islands as more distancing and waves as more clinging.

Islands pride themselves in being independent and self-reliant.

The wave’s ambivalence about dependency can bring about rapid shifts between clinging and distancing.

Unlike islands who need alone time to process, waves need to talk through their problems in order to calm their nervous systems.

Waves have a need to depend on someone or something outside for nearly constant contact and reassurance.

Waves expect to be disappointed, rejected, punished, and abandoned, which leaves them feeling needy and too much of a burden.

Waves fervently seek proximity and love long periods of contact with their partner,

Waves will often calm themselves down by talking to another person.

Waves tend to be negativistic. Think of negativism as evidence of a strong desire for something and an equally strong fear that those hopes will be dashed.

Waves, in general, automatically predict loss.

Waves see things in black and white, which makes it hard for them to make important decisions.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotional and physiological states and regulate your responses to your environment.

Waves tend to have difficulty with self-regulation.

Waves tend to overexpress their emotions and will resort to hyperbole to make their point.

Waves tend to think in a nonlinear and emotion-based manner.

Waves are the most likely to be considered “high maintenance” by their partners.

Nonetheless, waves can often appear to seek conflict and be unable to let things go.

Waves are very relational, often quite warm, affectionate, loving, and exciting.

Secure individuals tend to come from families that value relationships over everything else.

Anchors tend to be happy, resilient people who are good at going with the flow.

Good self-regulation and apt engagement in mutual regulation are hallmark features of the anchor.

Anchors aren’t perfect. After all, they’re people. They can be quite wave-ish or island-ish.

Anchors have problems too. All people are annoying, and all relationships are burdensome.

Unresolved trauma or loss affects how someone feels and behaves.

The child (with a child’s brain) is left to their own devices to adapt to the intensity of the experience. That’s what causes the unresolved part.

Disorganized individuals may have been the recipients of frightening parenting or frightening experiences when they were young.

We’re hurt by people and we’re healed by people. It’s important that individuals who have experienced early trauma or loss seek help with someone knowledgeable in these areas.

As children, we don’t get to choose the family we’re born into. We simply must adapt in order to survive. That’s nature.

Teens’ uneven brain development is at the root of most adolescent behavioral and emotional tumult.

Keep in mind that attachment changes throughout the lifespan.


The two of you are in each other’s care; therefore it’s incumbent upon both of you to know each other as well as you know yourselves, perhaps better.

Get to know your partner really well. Study them. Pay attention.

While physical looks, wealth and ambition, religion, and personality may be important to you, none of these features guarantee a truly happy long-term relationship.

Talk rigorously about what love means to you. Do this face to face and eye to eye.

Explain to your partner why you love them and be specific. Don’t hedge, take shortcuts, generalize, or say what you think your partner wants to hear.

Couples must have a reason to be together beyond common interests, eroticism, love, kids, or just plain convenience. Couples who stay together for the long term have something much bigger that unites and binds them.

Take turns explaining to each other what you think you have in common.

Lust and passion, or sex alone, aren’t ingredients that can sustain a long-term thriving marriage. While there are ways to cultivate passion and novelty in your partnership, it’s the connection, not the passion, that’s most important.

Have a serious, in-depth conversation about bringing children into your relationship.

Have an honest conversation or debate as to what is and will be your highest priority. Is it (or will it be) the child or children? Will it be your partner relationship?

Here’s my take on the reason to get married: Think survival unit. To thrive together you must first survive together.

You both get to be more than you would otherwise be on your own because you’re potentially more powerful and effective in the world together than you would be alone.

In a secure-functioning relationship, maintaining your couple bubble is paramount.

We seek proximity with our parents, partners, or children by making eye contact, beckoning, calling out, and wanting to talk. These are called bids for attention.

Waves tend to do a lot of proximity seeking and can maintain physical contact for long periods.

When two people are this physically close with eye contact involved, partners will experience something called resonance.

In order to build your owner’s manual, you must learn your partner’s cues moment to moment.

As is often attributed to Shakespeare, the eyes are the windows to the soul. Modern neuroscientists might say the eyes are the windows to the autonomic nervous system.

Eye contact is a powerful connector. It’s also one of the ways in which we can read others. Eye contact is highly stimulating and can be very difficult for some people.

For now, I want you to start paying attention to your partner’s face. Really look closely.

Your partner can’t be all-knowing; therefore, your job of paying attention, being present, and being curious is never done. Secure-functioning partners make it a career of getting to know each other.


A deal breaker is any matter that would disqualify a partner from a committed relationship despite other wonderful conditions.

Common deal breakers involve having children, monogamy, religion, money, sex, drugs and alcohol, child-rearing, place of residence (city versus countryside), and management of thirds.

Of all the big deal breakers, differences between partners about having or not having children is perhaps the biggest.

Differences in desires for family are often difficult to resolve, which is why, when you’re considering long-term partnership, it’s so important to dig deep into this topic before marriage.

One thing is for sure, you will never feel the same about yourself or your relationship, and that isn’t meant to be negative.

Having a child is a game changer to be sure. And…it’s forever.

DO seek professional help as you would in premarital counseling to prepare for being a stepfamily.

If partners start off as secure functioning, managing a blended family should work out just fine.

Money can be a deal breaker.

The question of sexual compatibility is a common issue in my clinic among married couples.You can also learn this here now to know more about sexual wellness.

The couple debated these and other issues around sex for a long time after they married. Their sexual appetites changed and their attitudes around lovemaking matured into something deeper and more meaningful than their previously held ideas about sex. Their intense focus on sex drove them to greater understanding about themselves. In other words, they resolved what could have been a deal breaker as they came to a sexual congress with each other.

Many couples have disagreements about the use of drugs and alcohol. When a couple finds themselves at a crossroads on these matters, they tend to sweep these issues under the rug, believing that one or the other will come around to their position. But this rarely happens.

Acts of violence are commonly perpetrated by an alcohol-drenched brain. That alone should be a deal breaker.

Still, even a stoned, drunk, or tripping partner is a drag if the other partner is sober, not interested, and unhappy with their altered lover.

Secure-functioning relationships start with partners accepting each other as is and end with absolute protection of the couple’s safety and security system. Mutual trust is part of that foundation.

Misinformation, falsehoods, omissions, frequent use of deception, or lying will destroy trust in an interdependent relationship where the primary reason for existing is based on trust.

The longer information is withheld or misrepresented, the greater the risk that the partner who had been in the dark will feel betrayed.

It’s never a good idea to withhold, conceal, or misrepresent information vital to the other partner’s interests, and it never ends well.

A few deal breakers have to do with the management of thirds. Thirds are in-laws, children, stepchildren, ex-spouses, drugs and alcohol, hobbies, porn.

Deal breakers often lie hidden because partners refuse to address, acknowledge, and solve them prior to getting married.

  1. SEX!

Sex is probably the most common problem area of all.

But I do want to briefly examine our definition of the word sex since there doesn’t appear to be just one meaning.

I broadly define sex as having any erotic physical contact with another person.

We’ve established that lovemaking is much more than coitus. It’s about affection, friendship, and deepening our knowledge of each other. It’s also about healing.

Sexual intimacy benefits both partners in many ways. One well-known benefit is the production of oxytocin and vasopressin, particularly in the female when reaching orgasm.

Sex is perhaps best when it’s about making, generating, and sustaining feelings of love and affection.

Fertility issues are complex and can greatly stress a couple.

Sexual issues involved in making babies can lead to many problems, especially for insecure-functioning couples.

DO become a secure-functioning couple before adding a third (baby).

DO plan responsibly before conceiving a child. Make certain that finances, employment, and other resources are in place.

Many couples think that having a baby will fix their marital problems. This is rarely the case.

DO respond quickly to your partner’s concerns, wishes, or sensitivities.

DON’T disrespect, dismiss, or devalue your partner’s concerns, wishes, or sensitivities.

DON’T withhold information about what you’re doing, thinking, feeling, or planning.

Most of the problems in the bedroom are fixable!

Proximity seeking and contact maintenance have little to do with love and a lot to do with safety and security.

There’s no couple activity as exposing as sex, nothing that requires as much proximity seeking and contact maintenance.

For the avoidant, oral sex can resolve the interpersonal stress problem, as can sex with the lights off and sexual positions whereby one partner’s back is to the other or one partner’s face is hidden.

Go in for a full body hug and hold it like statues. Make sure your chests and stomachs are touching.

Anxiety around performance is a real joy killer.

Sexual drive and interest will change throughout the lifespan for various reasons. If you expect to maintain the same libidinal energy throughout your time together you will likely be greatly disappointed. Besides, nothing kills libido like high expectations and performance pressure.

Resist scheduling sex.

Fears of contamination are a constant preoccupation for individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder; such individuals can experience disgust almost continuously.

Sex, pornography, body fluids, and body parts can elicit disgust in a great many people.

Disgust includes a typical human revulsion to the notion that humans are animals. Many people view sex as beastly, especially when engaged for purposes other than procreation.

Studies have shown that male and female individuals who masturbate have a greater understanding of how their body works.

Early interpersonal stimulation, experienced as frequent and sustained face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and skin-to-skin contact with another human being, is an essential condition for social-emotional development and vitality.

Conversely, many hypersexual adults often have histories of sexual abuse, molestation, or overstimulation early in childhood.

Other low-stimulation families yield offspring that are hyposexual.

Males with high levels of oxytocin tend to be more relational but less sexual than other males.

DO talk with each other about sexual drive and expectation — be honest.

DON’T ignore a deal breaker if one of you feels that frequent sex or sexual variety is a “must-have” feature and the other doesn’t.

DON’T assume that libido will remain the same for either or both of you.

All experimentation in the bedroom can support long-term marriage and commitment as long as both partners agree completely to what’s happening and no one is hiding something from the other.

Try saying your partner’s first name while making love.

The key throughout this and other chapters is secure functioning, which means that whatever you’re doing together, you do so with full transparency, playfulness, and in a manner that’s fair and sensitive.

Playful (and humorous) couples tend to be the happiest.


All couples have conflict and will cause each other distress from time to time.

Since conflict and distress are the norm, it’s essential that you learn to fight well and repair quickly.

Stick to one topic and one topic only.

Keep conversations short and to the point.

Don’t make your partner sit too long.

Be friendly as much as you can.

Take care of your own fears and interests while taking care of your partner’s fears and interests.

Now here’s the formula: you’re more likely to be heard when you take care of yourself and your partner at the same time.

DO offer amends, accolades, appreciation, and anything that directly responds to your partner’s complaint(s).

It’s vital that during distress the two of you move as quickly as possible toward mutual relief.

Stick to one issue only until it’s taken off the table.

If you run out of time, reassure each other that the matter will be taken up again soon and that it will work out for both of you.

At the start of a conflict, remain face to face and eye to eye.

Never fight by email, text, or phone.

Stick to one thing, and one thing only. Never move on to another topic or issue before taking the current issue off the table completely. One issue at a time.

Tensing and relaxing, tightening and loosening, or holding on and letting go are all phrases used to describe how we go into and get out of difficult moments.

Both of you should maintain awareness of taking too long to process or talk about anything that’s stressful. Think, go in and get out, hold on and let go, tense and then relax, and drop everything so when you do come back to any stressful discussion, you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle it together.


Putting the relationship first, above being right, means having to swallow one’s own pride.

The art of lowering oneself isn’t just a survival technique. It’s also a skill intended to show a partner, through physicality, they intend no harm.

Lead with relief.

Make sure your partner knows precisely what you know about their wants, needs, fears, and worries. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes.

Be loving and friendly.

Lower yourself.

Be respectful, admiring, appreciative.

Track your partner’s face, voice, and movements for signs of distress or relief.

Consider giving up the need to be absolutely right.

Practice tensing and letting go.


Alternative forms of partnership, such as open marriages and polyamorous arrangements, can be successful or catastrophic.

The world favors couples — always has.

Mentor couples can serve as real-life examples of successful relationships.

Futurize, travel in time, and imagine what the relationship could be as you journey through life together.

Holding in mind the possibility you could lose your partner tomorrow makes you value them today.

While we’re at it, gratitude is a key to happiness.

Strong couples are made up of strong partners willing to throw down if a boundary is crossed. If neither of you are willing to respond appropriately to a crossed line, you’re screwed.

Make no mistake, secure functioning is conditional love. Unconditional love is reserved for children and pets. Step out of line and your partner must lower the hammer — and vice versa. We all need to know our limits, and the two of you must hold each other to the same limits and act if those limits are violated.

Reassess your relationship as you move forward. Consider re-upping your commitment to each other, maybe every year.

Go easy on each other. Take care of each other. Remember that the two of you are a survival unit. Your lives as well as your happiness depend on each other as competent caregivers. It’s the two of you against the world.

The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson

The Big Idea: A parent’s ultimate job is to raise a strong, confident, and responsible adult by giving the child 1) space to make (and learn from) mistakes, 2) space to explores their interests, and 3) the right balance between guidance and freedom.

INTRODUCTION: Why a Sense of Control Is Such a Big Deal

We really can’t control our kids — and doing so shouldn’t be our goal. Our role is to teach them to think and act independently, so that they will have the judgment to succeed in school and, most important, in life.

We hope to convince you that you should think of yourself as a consultant to your kids rather than their boss or manager.

We will try to persuade you of the wisdom of saying “It’s your call” as often as possible.

We’ll offer ideas to help you help your kids find their own internal motivation.

We’ll coach you in navigating an educational system that is often at odds with giving kids autonomy.

CHAPTER ONE: The Most Stressful Thing in the Universe

Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the brain.

So what does a sense of control have to do with all of this? The answer is: everything. Quite simply, it is the antidote to stress.

Agency may be the one most important factor in human happiness and well-being. We all like to feel that we are in charge of our own destiny.

It’s also why the surest way to get a picky five-year-old to eat his vegetables is to divide the plate in half and let him choose which half to eat.

Over the last sixty years, study after study has found that a healthy sense of control goes hand in hand with virtually all the positive outcomes we want for our children.

In fact, when kids are constantly shielded from circumstances that make them anxious, it tends to make their anxiety worse. We want them to learn how to deal successfully with stressful situations — to have a high stress tolerance. That’s how they develop resilience.

Positive stress motivates children (and adults) to grow, take risks, and perform at a high level.

Tolerable stress, which occurs for relatively brief periods, can also build resilience.

Toxic stress is defined as frequent or prolonged activation of the stress system in the absence of support.

Four major brain systems are involved in developing and maintaining a healthy sense of control: 1. the executive control system, 2. the stress response system, 3. the motivation system, and 4. the resting state system.

  1. The Pilot (The Executive Control System)
  2. The Lion Fighter (The Stress Response System)

A healthy stress response is defined by a very quick spike in stress hormones followed by a quick recovery.

That can be a problem, in part, because chronically elevated levels of cortisol will impair and eventually kill cells in the hippocampus, the place where memories are created and stored. This is why students have trouble learning when they are under acute stress.

Stress disorganizes the brain. It reduces brain wave coherence, the desire to explore new ideas and to solve problems creatively.

  1. The Cheerleader (The Motivational System)
  2. The Buddha (The Resting State)

The main thing to remember for now is that chronically stressed kids routinely have their brains flooded with hormones that dull higher brain functions and stunt their emotional responses.

The times when our brains seem to be the most sensitive to stress are : 1) prenatally (highly stressed pregnant women tend to have children who are more responsive to stress), 2) in early childhood, when neural circuits are particularly malleable, and 3) during adolescence, that powerful but vulnerable period between childhood and adulthood.

In fact, it is through working with kids like Jared that Bill concluded that being too tired and too stressed for too long is a formula for anxiety and depression.

We get into dangerous territory when we take all that on ourselves and believe we can control the uncontrollable.

A major goal of this book is to help parents help their kids increase their stress tolerance — their ability to perform well in stressful situations — and to “ throw off ” stress rather than accumulate it.

CHAPTER TWO: “I Love You Too Much to Fight with You About Your Homework”, The Parent as Consultant

In this chapter, we’re going to explain why trying to control your child will not give you the results you want, and why it risks creating kids who must then constantly be pushed because their own internal motivation has either not developed or has been eroded by external pressure. We’re also going to ask you to consider a different philosophy than that of parent as enforcer: that of parent as consultant.

When parents come to us concerned about a lack of motivation, difficulty with peers, or poor academic performance, we begin by asking them a simple question: “Whose problem is it?”

Remember that your job is not to solve your children’s problems but to help them learn to run their own lives.

Parents commonly feel responsible for policing homework without thinking about the underlying goal: to raise curious, self-directed learners.

Second, when parents work harder than their kids to solve their problems, their kids get weaker, not stronger.

Third, and this is perhaps the most critical point, you can’t force a kid to do something he’s dead set against.

But virtually all child development experts, including influential psychologists and authors like Madeline Levine and Laurence Steinberg, have advocated a third option: authoritative parenting. This entails being supportive, but not controlling.

At least sixty years of research has validated the fact that authoritative parenting is the most effective approach. 2 It emphasizes self-direction and values maturity over obedience.

The brain develops according to how it’s used. By giving your child the opportunity to make decisions for herself while still young, you will help her brain build the circuits that are necessary for resilience in the face of stress.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly first.

You shouldn’t be absent during this process; you should be standing behind them, offering support and guidance the whole time.

Teachers can teach, coaches can coach, guidance counselors can outline graduation requirements, but there’s one thing only parents can do: love their kids unconditionally and provide them with a safe base at home.

When home is a safe base, kids and teens feel freer to explore the possibilities away from home in healthy ways. They’ll return periodically, checking back in for reassurance and security.

“I love you too much to fight with you about your homework.”

You should set limits, and you should be involved in problem solving, both of which we cover in the next chapter. Kids feel safer and will be more self motivated when they know that adults will take care of the things they’re not yet ready to take care of themselves.

In no way do we think you should shrug your shoulders and say, “Sink or swim, buddy.” Offer a life raft every step of the way, in the form of your counsel.

Because it’s impossible to make a truly resistant kid practice, and because chronically fighting about anything is not healthy for families, we recommend taking the same approach that we recommend for homework: consult, but don’t force.

But trying to force a kid to play a sport is painful for everyone.

We encourage parents to teach their children that movement is crucial for good health, and we want parents to help kids find ways of moving that they really enjoy. We suggest parents say something like, “In our family, everybody does something active. Let’s try different things and find out what works for you.”

We also recommend swimming, rock climbing, horseback riding, and martial arts — all things that kids can get better and better at through practice, and where most of the competition is with one’s own previous personal best.

Be clear with the school that you’re willing to help, but that you’re reminding your child it’s her responsibility.

You can work overtime, but only as a reward to your child for good effort. If she’s worked hard the whole time you’ve allotted, but the material is particularly challenging, by all means, help her until she’s done.

Your consulting hours are clear, and she can either take advantage of them or not. That said, if she procrastinates only occasionally, you should feel free to make exceptions and help her out.

Remember, while teachers can teach and coaches can coach (and cut your kid from the team), only you can be the safe base.

We think that developing a clear sense of who’s responsible for what is more important than always doing well. That is the key to raising a self-driven child.

We recognize that there comes a point when a child no longer needs help getting dressed or putting on her shoes, and we also need to recognize the point when that child no longer needs our help managing her homework.

“Would it be okay if your child turned out like you?” If the answer is no, Bill knows his real work is to help that parent be more accepting of himself or herself.

Kids won’t reach their potential by constantly being driven. In fact, the opposite is true; they will do what is necessary to get you off their back, but they won’t do more. People go the extra mile when it matters to them, not when it matters to you.

But we would all do well to remember the big picture: that we want our kids to be thoughtful learners, and want them to be self-disciplined, not well disciplined.

CHAPTER THREE: “It’s Your Call”, Kids as Decision Makers

Adopt the following three precepts when it comes to your kids: “You are the expert on you.” “You have a brain in your head.” “You want your life to work.”

“It’s your call. I have confidence in your ability to make informed decisions about your own life and to learn from your mistakes.”

“It’s your call” does not mean kids get to call all the shots.

“It’s your call” does not conflict with limit setting, which will always be an essential part of parenting.

“It’s your call” isn’t about giving kids unlimited choices.

“It’s your call” isn’t about manipulation, or sneakily getting kids to think a decision is theirs.

There are a number of situations in which a child can’t be trusted to make a good decision.

If a child is seriously depressed or suicidal, all bets are off.

Likewise, if a kid is dependent on alcohol or drugs or engaging in self-harm, he or she cannot adequately weigh the pros and cons and come to a good decision.

Remember that magic line: “I have confidence in your ability to make informed decisions about your own life and to learn from your mistakes.”

Giving kids a sense of control is the only way to teach them competency.

“Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”

You don’t always know what’s best.

Research has found that by the time kids are fourteen or fifteen, they generally have adult-level ability to make rational decisions.

“I trust you to make a good decision, and this will ultimately be your call, but I want to be sure you make the best decision possible, so I’d like to help you think through the pros and cons of either option. I also want you to talk to people who have more experience and to get their feedback. Finally, I think it’s important that we talk together about a possible Plan B if your decision doesn’t go the way you want.”

When engaging in collaborative problem solving with teenagers, know that they have this bias and put a special focus on helping them to really think through the possible downsides.

Tell her you will always be willing to pick her up from a party or to send her home in a cab or an Uber if she feels pressured to do things she doesn’t want to do, but avoid giving her the message that she can’t be trusted.

Letting them get stuck every once in a while, while you’re available to help them get out of the ditch, can actually help them grow.

“If I let you sit around and not do anything all summer, I’ll feel like I’m a terrible parent. That’s not what good parents do. So I want you to decide. I want you to have at least one extracurricular activity. Let’s brainstorm about what that might be.”

If children will not consider the relevant information, we don’t support letting them make the decision.

To improve your legitimacy, you have to show your child that he is being heard. So give him credit for making good arguments, by sometimes changing your position so that he knows that a well-thought-out argument is in fact a worthwhile pursuit.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Nonanxious Presence

Parental anxiety isn’t new. Parents have worried about their kids ever since having kids was a thing, but we believe it’s worse now than before.

Most Americans are living in the safest place at the safest time in human history, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Our anxiety is seeping into our kids.

Children don’t need perfect parents, but they do benefit greatly from parents who can serve as a nonanxious presence.

Bad news first: anxiety tends to run in families.

There are dandelion children (resilient) and there are orchid children (sensitive but beautiful).

One of the ways we pass on anxiety to our kids is through something called epigenetics.

When parents worry about their kids, it undermines the kids’ confidence.

Calm is contagious.

When we’re calm, we can let kids experience discomfort and learn to manage it themselves.

To be — and not just fake being — a nonanxious presence, you have to get a handle on your stress.

Make enjoying your kids your top parenting priority.

Your kid needs to feel the joy of seeing your face light up when you see him because you are genuinely happy to spend time with him.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I couldn’t stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

We worry about our kids, and they worry about us. So slow down. Exercise. Get enough sleep.

Make peace with your worst fears.

Your responsibility is to love and support your child. It isn’t your responsibility to protect him from pain.

We are trying to make everything safe and sanitized, but it’s a fool’s errand.

If you want to keep your children as safe as possible, the best thing to do is to give them experience and teach them judgment.

Your kids need practice managing and taking nonlethal risks. After all, life isn’t exactly risk free — we take risks in love, in work, in finance all the time.

It is what it is.

Acceptance is a powerful stance. For one thing, accepting your children the way they are conveys respect.

Consider that for all we know, our kids may well be exactly who and where they are supposed to be right now.

Spend private time with your child, ideally without electronics.

If you’re highly anxious, do something about it. Treating anxiety is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family.

Avoid making decisions for your child based on fear.

It cannot be your responsibility to see that everything goes well for your children at all times.

Model self-acceptance and tell your kids what you’re doing.

CHAPTER FIVE: Inner Drive, How to Help Your Kids Develop Motivation

Our aim is to focus on the self-motivation necessary for the long game — the inner drive that we want our kids to have so that they commit to something and persevere, develop their potential, and take steps toward living the lives they want to live.

Research over the last four decades has repeatedly demonstrated that incentives like sticker charts, consequences, and other forms of parental monitoring that are “ laid on ” children actually undermine this type of motivation.

Our aim is to largely take away the carrots and sticks and to offer you instead a deeper understanding of the brain.

Motivation = autonomy + competence + relatedness.

Carol Dweck argues a growth mindset offers students a sense of control.

Promoting a growth mindset is one of the best ways to improve your child’s sense of control, to foster their emotional development, and to support their academic achievement.

In Dweck’s words, “a focus on inner effort can help resolve helplessness and engender success.” A growth mindset is the MVP of the self-motivated child.

Self-determination theory (SDT), which holds that humans have three basic needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

When something really cool happens, and especially when you’re anticipating something really cool happening, you have a surge of dopamine.

So how do you help a child develop a healthy dopamine system? The answer is surprisingly simple: encourage them to work hard at what they love.

When kids work hard at something they love and find challenging, they enter a state of what’s come to be called “flow.”

Researcher Reed Larson has studied the development of motivation in children and teens, and he’s found flow to be the secret sauce.

The best way to motivate him for the things you think he should focus on is to let him spend time on the things he wants to focus on.

Girls tend to like to be on top of things and to feel stressed when they fall behind or have too many things on their to-do list.

Finally, it can be helpful to remember that what motivates one child will not necessarily motivate another.

When parents pay attention to these differences, they can help their kids understand what motivates them — and what’s truly important to them.

If a child can visualize himself accomplishing a goal he has chosen for himself, it tricks the brain into thinking he’s done it.

Writing down our goals reminds us to play the long game.

Frequent exercise.

Social support.You can also look at this site to know more about it.

A healthy, high-protein diet and enough rest.

Circuit training. Saboteurs often do well when they work intensely for short periods marked by a timer and then take a prescribed break.

“Working hard to get better and better at something that’s important to you is one of the best things you can do for your brain.”

“The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” emphasizes the importance of looking for that intersection of passion and skill.

Remember, if a kid isn’t motivated by school, he’s not motivated by school, and you can’t make him want to do better.

But the most important thing you can do is express confidence that they will find something they love to do.

It may be helpful to know that Eeyores commonly lack flexibility and confidence in their ability to adapt to new situations, which can lead to anxiety about trying new things.

Remember that some people have fewer interests and smaller friendship groups throughout their lives, and are perfectly happy.

Physical activity can be motivating to all kinds of kids.

Read “How to Raise an Adult.”

Even if you are proud of your child, she may come to believe that she is loved because of her accomplishments.

University found that the type of college students attended (e.g., public versus private; highly selective versus less selective) made very little difference to their workplace engagement and well-being.

So, being a standout at a lesser-known school is often better in the long run than getting lost in the crowd at a more competitive school.

While it can be frightening to fail at something, a poor grade does not translate to a permanently closed door.

When she saw that the worst-case scenario actually didn’t destroy her or close off her future, she was more empowered to take risks and more capable of living her life without feeling that a monster was chasing her around every turn. And that, ultimately, made her more successful.

Help her set goals that are values based, because when we set goals we’re in control of, our minds are happy.

Support autonomy, support autonomy, support autonomy.

Explore where your child’s true inner motivation lies. You can do this by asking when in life he or she feels “really happy.”

Make a point of speaking with your kids about what it is they want in life.

Help your child articulate (and write down) goals.

Encourage flow.

Teach and model a love of challenge and persistence in the face of difficulty.

Teach your kids not to be overly preoccupied with pleasing others.

CHAPTER SIX: Radical Downtime

IN INDIA’S ANCIENT Vedic tradition, it is said that “rest is the basis of all activity.”

Yet as the pace of life goes faster, we need to radicalize our downtime.

In this chapter, we will delve into two powerful forms of radical downtime: daydreaming and meditation.

The Benefits of Daydreaming

Raichle has led a new wave of research that suggests that the unfocused downtime that activates the default mode network is absolutely critical for a healthy brain.

The default mode network is where the all-important work of personal reflection takes place.

But here’s the thing about the DMN: it cannot activate when you’re focused on a task.

Our culture values getting things done. But research shows us just how important it is to do that mind wandering.

Einstein’s breakthrough on relativity came shortly after a year spent in Italy “loafing aimlessly” and attending occasional lectures.)

People with an efficient DMN do better on tests of cognitive ability, including measures of memory, flexibility of thought, and reading comprehension. People who are efficient at toggling their DMN on and off also have better mental health.

Think of your typical American family driving somewhere in the car: the kids want to listen to something, watch something, or play a game. They’ve forgotten how to look out the window, chitchat, or daydream.

Alternate periods of connection and activity with periods of quiet time. When you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or for your bus to arrive, do you immediately pick up a magazine or check your phone? What if you just sat there for a couple of minutes instead?

We need to actively choose to not take our phones with us, or to turn them off.

Learning to tolerate solitude — to be comfortable with yourself — is one of the most important skills one acquires in childhood.

“Meditation is so powerful that I ask all of you who don’t yet meditate to learn meditation — and then call me in a year to tell me how it’s changed your life.”

In this section, we’ll briefly discuss mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation, the two forms of meditation that are used most widely with children.

Mindfulness in schools sometimes includes guided meditations, visualizations, affirmations, breathing exercises, mindful yoga, exercise set to music, and writing and visual art exercises for promoting positive self-expression.

Transcendental Meditation (TM)

Meditators are given a mantra, which is a meaningless sound. When a practitioner silently repeats his mantra, the mind settles down and experiences quieter levels of awareness.

Although transcendence is the epitome of doing nothing, over forty years of research has found that this experience of deeply quieting the mind and body improves physical and mental health, as well as learning and academic performance.

Kids who meditate for as little as ten or fifteen minutes twice a day will experience a significant reduction in stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms and express less anger and hostility.

But he quickly learned that he could accomplish more even though he was taking twenty minutes twice a day to meditate.

Look for opportunities during the day to let your mind wander.

Consider learning to meditate yourself.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Sleep, The Most Radical Downtime

IN THE EARLY YEARS of the twentieth century, adults in America slept nine hours a night or more.

Sleep is arguably the single most important thing for healthy brain development.

Sleep is brain food.

Sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stress.

Emotional control is dramatically impaired by sleep deprivation.

Sleep loss is like a “negativity bomb.”

Sleep deprivation, like chronic stress, can trigger anxiety and mood disorders in children who are already vulnerable to getting them.

Sleep deprivation has physical implications. It impairs blood sugar regulation and contributes to obesity.

Sleep is critical to learning. There’s almost nothing more important to learning than being well rested.

Later school start times have led to decreased absences and tardiness, reduced sleepiness in school, and improvement in mood and feelings of efficacy.

Often when the advice comes from a third, nonparental party, kids are more willing to take it seriously.

With school-aged kids and younger, you can enforce an agreed-upon lights-out time.

For older kids, make privileges like driving contingent on getting enough sleep — since driving while sleep deprived is so dangerous.

Encourage your child to do screen-time homework earlier and save reading homework for later so she gets less late light exposure.

Our recommendation is to not serve caffeinated foods and beverages to children.

The biological clock of night owls is often delayed by exposure to electronic media and electric light.

Make sleep a family value, and set a family goal of sleeping more.

Assess whether your child has an effective wind-down routine before bed.

If your child is a light sleeper or struggles to fall asleep, consider a white-noise generator.

Talk as a family about creating technology-free zones in the bedroom at night.

Suggest that your high school child ask her friends or other kids in her grade who do get eight-plus hours of sleep a night how they do it.

If your kid’s circadian clock is off, exposure to bright light early in the morning can be an effective tool.

Also, if weather permits, go camping.

Continue reading about sleep. Books we recommend are Helene Ensellem’s Snooze…or Lose! and Dr. Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Taking a Sense of Control to School

In an ideal school, teachers have autonomy and kids have choices.

Most reform has been focused on what to cram into children’s heads — and testing them ad nauseam to see what sticks — rather than on developing their brains.

We believe that recognizing the importance of a sense of control can guide our thinking about the all-important place where our kids spend upwards of seven hours a day nine months of the year.

Get Them Engaged

The best thing you can do to facilitate engagement in the classroom may be to give your kid autonomy outside of it.

There is evidence that teachers teach better and feel less stressed when they have a choice about what they teach and how they teach.

If your child isn’t learning, try to find a tutor or educational games to engage him in math or science.

You could even encourage them to learn some of the material before the teacher addresses it in class.

You can also encourage your kids to learn on their own and to teach what they’ve learned to someone else — a parent, a sibling, or a fellow student.

Reduce Academic Stress and Pressure

When we’re too stressed, we can’t think straight.

You may see a third of kids in the optimal state of learning, called “relaxed alertness.”

When students know it’s all right to fail, they can take the kinds of risks that lead to real growth.

Also, remind your children that what’s important is that they develop themselves, not that they get perfect grades.

Homework: Inspire — But Don’t Require

Small amounts of homework (one to two hours a night) can contribute to academic achievement for middle and high school kids, but any more than that backfires when it comes to actual learning.

We believe in recommending assignments and encouraging kids to do them — or an alternative task that would contribute to mastering the objectives — but not requiring or grading them.

Finnish students — who have among the highest educational outcomes in the world — have the lightest homework requirement, rarely receiving more than a half hour per day.

Ned deliberately assigns very little homework. He has no interest in busywork.

Try to switch to a school that focuses on brain-centered learning instead, a school that aims to develop inquisitive learners, not score seekers.

The problem is that while children from the 1920s to the 1970s were free to play, laying the groundwork for key skills like self-regulation, modern kindergartners are required to read and write.

Most eighth graders don’t have sufficiently developed abstract thinking skills to master algebra.

Starting test prep too early is not just totally unnecessary, it is actively counterproductive.

Earlier isn’t necessarily better; and likewise, more isn’t better if it’s too much.

Choose schools that are developmentally sensitive in their curriculum.

Relax and take a long view.

Don’t go overboard on AP classes.

While the word “test” has a very negative connotation, it’s still one of the most powerful learning tools available.

Testing helps you recognize what you’re missing.

Testing can also mitigate test anxiety.

A heavy reliance on standardized testing is an ineffective way to improve educational outcomes.

Many kids shine most brightly in classes that aren’t core academic subjects (or in activities that aren’t classes at all) — like art, music, shop, and drama.

Schools should focus more on nurturing healthy brain development and less on test scores.

As Robert Sapolsky has said, depression is the cruelest disease.

Teach your kids that they are responsible for their own education.

Remind your child of the big picture, that grades matter less than the ways he or she develops as a student and person.

Resist the pressure to push your child if he’s not ready, be it reading in kindergarten, algebra in eighth grade, or AP classes in high school.

Consider advocating for brain-friendly experiences in school such as exercise, the arts, and meditation.

CHAPTER NINE: Wired 24 / 7, Taming the Beast of Technology

How can I get my kid to stop playing video games every second he’s not in school?

Technology addiction is the new norm for young adults.

Technology is an incredible tool with the great power to enrich lives, but the things it displaces — family time, face-to-face interaction with friends, study time, physical activity, and sleep — are invaluable, and the way technology trains the brain to expect constant stimulation is deeply troubling.

The king of tech himself, Steve Jobs, was careful to limit his kids’ technology use, and wouldn’t get iPads for his own kids.

Learning to tame the beast is a powerful skill — one that will stay with them for years to come.

From a brain science perspective, video games produce spikes in dopamine and induce a state of flow.

Scientists have concluded that gaming satisfies the needs for competence and a sense of control — and that multiplayer games satisfy the need for relatedness.

There is no compelling evidence yet that the sense of control and motivation one feels when playing video games translates to real life.

Due to their exposure to technology, kids’ brains work “completely differently” from their parents’ and from kids’ brains of previous generations.

Many kids can’t stand a minute of boredom or tolerate doing just one thing at a time.

Technological breakthroughs almost by definition must make life more stressful, because they quicken the pace and raise the bar of what can be accomplished.

A typical adult checks his smartphone forty-six times a day.

When you refresh your e-mail, look at your text messages, or check your Instagram account, you get a hit of dopamine.

Screen time is an independent risk factor for many of the things we don’t want for our kids.

Every hour of screen time is associated with increased blood pressure, while every hour spent reading is associated with decreased blood pressure.

Screen time brings violent news.

Social media takes control away from you and gives it to your peers.

Technology sucks time away from activities the brain needs to develop a healthy sense of control: sleep, exercise, radical downtime, unstructured child-led play, and the real-life, face-to-face social interaction.

While social media is a greater concern for girls, video games tend to be a bigger problem for boys.

Just having a phone or a tablet in the bedroom increases sleep problems.

Technology appears to lower empathy.

Technology offers easy access to pornography, leading to a more violent sexual culture.

We strongly recommend letting your child know that you will be checking her texts and social media until you feel comfortable that she’s safe.

Giving kids a sense of control doesn’t mean that you let go of all restrictions and rules, and in order to feel safe themselves, kids need to know that you’re there to help them navigate deep waters.

You have to model responsible use of technology.

Seek to understand.

Get back to nature.

Studies show that kids feel and perform better after they’ve been immersed in nature.

Inform rather than lecture.

Collaborate on a solution.

Understand your leverage.

With teenagers, you simply can’t monitor their tech habits all the time. But here’s what you can do. Always know their password, and let them know that you will always know it.

It used to be that when parents asked us about video-game time, we suggested no more than an hour a day.

For starters, encourage everyone in the family to make a technology-use plan.

There is no evidence that young children need technology to develop optimally.

If you recognize your child is vulnerable to excessive use of technology, it’s important that you negotiate firm limits with him.

There’s been a resurgence in the popularity of quieter, hands-on activities like baking, sewing, and crafting among millennials.

Have a family meeting in which you talk about setting up technology-free times or zones.

Model healthy use of technology.

Try to have at least thirty minutes of unplugged “private time” every day with your kids during the week and at least an hour a day on weekends.

When out and about, point out social situations in which one person is ignoring the other through their use of a phone.

Let kids know you’ll check their texts and Twitter page randomly.

Make video game use contingent on not freaking out when it’s time to quit.

CHAPTER TEN: Exercising the Brain and Body

We don’t want our kids to be afraid of taking risks or to unravel when things don’t turn out as they’d hoped.

Exercise # 1: Set clear goals.

For some, writing a simple list of goals works well.

For others, it is much more effective to have a visual picture of their goal to refer to.

We are also big believers in setting “personal best” goals in the classroom.

Exercise # 2: Pay attention to what your brain is telling you.

Using simple language and vivid imagery and explaining the science of emotions can be remarkably effective,

Exercise # 3: Practice Plan B thinking.

Plan B thinking (“What are some other things you could do if it doesn’t work out as you hope?”) is key to maintaining a healthy approach to potential setbacks.

For some, Plan B thinking may include considering radically different routes to success.

Exercise # 4: Talk to yourself with compassion.

Teach your kids to be as supportive of themselves as they are of their best friend.

Third-person self-talk is much more powerful than first-person self-talk. If your daughter refers to herself by name, she is more likely to take the more distanced, supportive-friend stance than to act as critic in chief. 4

Exercise # 5: Practice reframing problems.

We like to think of life as a game of “Choose Your Point of View.” You get to decide how to frame events.

Reframing involves looking at our own thoughts with care and actively redirecting them. This is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy.

A simple way to help kids avoid catastrophizing is to teach them to ask themselves, whenever they’re upset, “Is this a big problem or a little problem?”

In cognitive behavioral therapy, kids are taught to distinguish between a disaster (like famine) and something that’s temporarily frustrating or embarrassing.

Exercise # 6: Move your body and/or play.

Exercise is more generally good for the brain and body. It increases levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which provide stability, focus, mental alertness, and calmness.

In short, it’s often said that exercise does more to help clear thinking than thinking does.

Finland is at the head of the class here: they mandate twenty minutes of outdoor play for every forty minutes of instructional time.

Yoga, martial arts, horseback riding, fencing, drumming, and rock climbing all fall in a category of exercise in which you are using your mental and motor skills to develop your executive functions.

Play is how children strengthen their cerebellum and learn to master their world.

Encourage your kids to set their own goals — and to visualize achieving them.

Build on your child’s SMART goals to add in mental contrasting. Are there inner obstacles?

Make Plan B thinking a family practice.

Model positive self-talk and self-compassion.

Make physical fitness a family value.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Navigating Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Six and a half million American kids and teens received special education services in 2013 – 2014.

We’re hard pressed to think of a family with three kids in which at least one does not have a learning disability, ADHD, or an autism spectrum disorder.

In the end, help that is forced on kids usually doesn’t do much good.

Fight homework that isn’t necessary.

Encourage self-understanding.

Offer but don’t force help.

Kids with autism struggle with stress tolerance and self-motivation.

Kids on the spectrum benefit greatly from strategies that reduce novelty and unpredictability, and that increase their sense of control.

The best documented intervention for autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), uses predetermined goals and a specific set of behavioral strategies (including rewards and negative consequences) to reach young children on the spectrum, and places minimal emphasis on promoting a sense of autonomy.

“If you’ve met one child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD.”

Parenting a child with special needs is stressful.

That’s why our most fundamental message is to focus on being a nonanxious presence.

Do everything you can to minimize homework-related stress.

Offer your child as much choice as possible about the kinds of interventions he receives and when he receives them.

Find a school that will accommodate your child.

Encourage your child to try different ways of working and learning to figure out what works best for him.

Give your kids opportunities to serve, such as helping younger children or working with animals.

Because kids with ADHD and ASD are at such high risk for sleep problems, pay careful attention to their ability to fall asleep.

CHAPTER TWELVE: The SAT, ACT, and Other Four – Letter Words

There’s a lot to be said against standardized tests.

Sometimes standardized tests provide the first sign of an issue.

The bottom line is that it helps to do well on those tests for the purpose of applying to college.

It’s worth remembering that the SAT and AP tests don’t impact your future nearly as much as you think.

Things that make life stressful: Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to the ego, Sense of control (or lack thereof).

Take practice tests, he reminds them, and the novelty goes away.

“Practice like you’ll play so you can play like you’ve practiced.”

By focusing on process, you will minimize unpredictability.

The other way to counter the stress of unpredictability is through Plan B thinking.

Test scores are not an accurate reflection of intelligence.

Another option is to go into warrior mode.

The “predator” mentality proved the key to these soldiers’ success; by reducing their anxiety, it enabled them to outperform their more fearful peers.

Look to conquer, rather than survive. Athletes have all sorts of rituals to help them “get into the zone” on game day.

When you feel that you have control over a situation, you are likely to be calmer, more relaxed, and more able to think. You are also likely to make better decisions.

In short, if you focus on process instead of outcome, whether taking a test or jumping out of an airplane, you will have a much greater sense of control.

What if when your mom or dad says they think you should do something, you reply, “Thanks for telling me, Mom” or, “That’s a good point.” When your parents feel validated, they are much more likely to pat themselves on the back and say, “You’re welcome, dear” and go back to doing whatever it is that adults do when they aren’t telling their kids what to do.

In the week before the test, think of yourself as a marathoner. Runners don’t train too hard the week before a race — rather, they taper.

Remind them that you care much more about them than any stupid test score.

If your child is anxious about test taking, offer to sit in the room while they take a practice test.

Talk through Plan B scenarios weeks (not the week) before a test, to help your child ward off anxiety.

Drive your child to the testing site the week before so he can check it out.

Plan for your child to take the ACT or SAT more than once.

Know that a little stress actually helps kids perform better.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Who’s Ready for College?

The college environment is drastically different from most kids’ experience in high school, and many teens haven’t developed some of the fundamental skills they will need to function in that environment before leaving home.

This is because college is often a brain-toxic environment.

College housing may be the most stressful and dysregulated living environment outside of a war zone.

Currently, in many middle-class and upper-middle-class families, college is seen as an entitlement, not something that’s earned.

Almost 50 percent of the students who enroll in four-year colleges don’t graduate.

If a student is not able to complete his applications and college essay independently, or with some help that he seeks out, he is probably not ready to start college.

You won’t get a sense of control over your life by avoiding hard work or receiving unearned trophies. It comes from diligence and commitment.

If your kid doesn’t have healthy ways to relieve stress, he will find unhealthy ones.

In places like Germany, Denmark, Australia, and the UK, taking a “gap year” (or two) to travel, work, or even serve in the military is highly encouraged.

But if you are providing some financial support for the college years, it’s reasonable for you to identify yourself as a stakeholder. You might say, “Go to college if you like. But if you want me to make an investment in your education, I need to see certain criteria met before I feel comfortable.”

Start suggesting as early as ninth grade that college is something that needs to be earned.

Encourage your child to get work experience.

Prepare yourself for the transition. Stay connected but keep a strong focus on your own life.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Alternate Routes

The reality is that we become successful in this world by working hard at something that comes easily to us and that engages us. We need to tell our kids that the skill set required to be a successful student is, in many ways, very different from the skill set that will lead you to have a successful career and a good life.

Being a straight-A student almost by definition requires a high level of conformity, which is not the route to a high level of success.

It turns out, in fact, that high school valedictorians are no more successful than other college graduates by their late twenties. Ability is not a simple matter of grades.

The idea that you have to get a college degree is, for many, a toxic message.

The majority of Americans do not graduate from college.

Many people who finish college or graduate school end up taking a circuitous route to academic success.

Many adults who were top students and have forged successful careers are miserable.

Where — or if — you go to college does not set the path for your life.

Following your passion is more energizing than doing what you feel you have to do.

Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Howard Gardner pointed out, there are many different forms of intelligence.

Successful people are good at some things and not so good at others, but wisely make a living doing something they’re good at.

You only have to be “smart enough” to do something interesting in this world.

That said, there are many advantages to having a college degree (and advanced degrees). We want kids to go to college and graduate if they can. But what we really don’t want to do is discourage the many kids who can’t make it through college.

After a fairly low level of financial comfort, there is no correlation between increased income and greater happiness.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, by Kristin Kimball.

Make a list with your child of all the different jobs you can possibly think of together.

Share the stories of alternate routes.

Be open about the surprises or disappointments you encountered on your own path, or that your parents or grandparents did, and how you pivoted.

Ask your child, What do you love to do? What do you think you’re better at than other people?

Encourage your child to find a mentor.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Big Idea: The Selfish Gene says that all forms of life on Earth begin with genes, and that the purpose of life is to make sure those genes survive.

Any form of life anywhere in the universe must begin with some type of replicating molecule.

Genes are like a blueprint for the bodies they create and inhabit. Genes can’t control their bodies directly, so they create structures like the brain and muscles to coordinate and execute all of the many processes required for life.

All biology should be considered from the perspective of genes.

A population of altruistic individuals can be easily exploited by a selfish one.

The explanation for altruistic behavior is gene selection. The key to understanding gene selection is recognizing that close relatives, by definition, share many of the same genes.

There is a ratio of selfish to altruistic animals where the population will be stable. This is called the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS).

Competition for finite resources extends to family members, including the struggle between parents and their children for exactly what proportion of the resources each child should get.

There should also be severe conflicts of interest between mates.

There are benefits to two conflicting mating situations: staying with your partner for as long as possible, and abandoning them with the child before being abandoned yourself.

For mates, many species of animals have long, intricate courtships to get both the male and female heavily involved before they actually reproduce.

Many types of animals move, or even live, together in groups. Some advantages of this are obvious.

Acts of animal altruism may ultimately be an act of selfishness—in fact, considering the selfish gene theory, it must be.

If the replicator unit of biology is the gene, then the replicator unit of ideas could be called the meme.

Culture and memes don’t seem to have any inherent survival value. It’s more likely that they’re side effects of group-focused evolutionary traits such as those discussed at the beginning of this section.

Organisms don’t replicate themselves at all (except in the relatively rare case of asexual reproduction). Given that the “purpose” of life is replication, it seems clear that organisms are tools that genes use to replicate themselves.

organisms don’t have to exist. They exist on Earth because that’s what evolution happened to favor in this particular environment.

Replication is both the beginning and the purpose of life.

Falling Into The Gap by Donald Fisher

The Big Idea: Falling Into The Gap is the inspirational story of how a man with no retail training built the world’s most successful international apparel company by being willing to take risks based on his natural instincts.

Lessons for Founders

It’s better to be lucky than smart.

Being a (tenacious) novice can be a competitive advantage.

Be clear about what success looks like. Often, founders (not Don Fisher) overlook the importance of family until it’s too late.

Keep equity at all costs.

It’s nice being a private company. You don’t have to answer to anyone.

Invest in operational excellence and information technology. It can be a strong competitive advantage.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. An enduring company will require at least a few reinventions to last decades.

In business, offense is product innovation and defense is operational excellence.

Success in business is especially rewarding because it lets you give back.

How was The Gap founded?

Inspiration for The Gap came from Don’s difficulty purchasing Levi’s from various department stores.

The Gap was originally a Levi’s-only store.

Doris and husband Don Fisher started the business after struggling to find jeans that fit him. They raised $63,000 to open their first store, which sold jeans and music, in San Francisco. The Fishers agreed on the name, which is short for “generation gap,” after Doris nixed her husband’s original idea, “Pants and Discs.”

Because a real estate deal fell through, Don was able to focus on launching The Gap. Luck plays a big role.

Don didn’t raise money from friends because he didn’t want to risk losing his friends’ money. Instead, he used his family’s savings of $63,000 to start The Gap.

Because Don didn’t have any retail training, he laid out the store as it made sense to him, a real estate investor, not as a traditional retailer would have done. Being a (tenacious) novice can be a competitive advantage.

Don just wanted to take the nightmare out of buying Levi’s.

Early Gap advertising was mostly radio, because that was the medium of choice for young people.

Early Gap slogan was “Over four tons of Levi’s.” And also, “for any shape, sex, or size.”

Early Gap employees were peole Don already knew and trusted.

The first Gap store opened with a big party, attended by social glitterati, and covered by local newspapers.

Don’s childhood was warm and stable. His upbringing gave him the self-confidence to launch The Gap, despite no retail experience.

Don was incredibly competitive, a champion swimmer, and hated losing in sports and beyond.

Don maintained many childhood friendship into old age.

Don attended UC Berkeley, majoring first in engineering, then in business administration.

Advice from Don’s mother: never say no when you can say yes, be big about little things, a secret is something you give somebody else to keep for you.

Don was a fearless body surfer, but came close to death a few times, eventually retiring from bodysurfing in his 70’s.

The three Fisher sons all attended Princeton and Stanford Graduate School of Business. Eventually, Bill and Bob became leaders at Gap. John started a family office and began investing.

Don’s first venture was converting his father’s furniture factory into an office building. That led to a brief career in real estate development in San Francisco.

After a challenging real estate venture, Don vowed never to partner with family members again.

Don was 41 years old when he opened the first Gap store.

Overtime, Don’s confidence grew and he relied less on Levi’s advice and more on his own instincts.

Don innovated a restocking system that was able to handle all the volume for that successful first store.

Don would never have started The Gap if the plan was just for one store. He envisioned as many as 10 stores.

When starting The Gap, Don also had an escape plan, just in case the first store was a failure.

Don invested early in computer systems to manage inventory and financials.

How did The Gap grow from one store to an empire?

First expansions outside of the Bay were: Southern California in 1971, Houston, Chicago.

Don overcame male breast cancer in 1971.

To save money, early commercials were made in Mexico City.

There were copycats like Miller Outpost and County Seat that started also selling only Levi’s.

Because of supply chain issues and competition among Levi’s retailers, The Gap started private labels in 1974.

Early Gap fashions were knockoffs manufactured in Hong Kong by Li & Fung.

In 1976, The Gap went public.

Don’s advice to entrepreneurs: keep equity at all costs.

It’s nice being private. You don’t have to answer to anyone.

In 1976, The Gap experimented briefly with discount retailing. They weren’t structured for off-price, so the experiment ended after a few years.

Since buyers bought nearly a year in advance, there was no opportunity to test products. They had to rely on instincts.

The Gap experimented briefly with Ralph Lauren, but it wasn’t a good fit.

Don never drank coffee or smoked.

Don hated long hair on boys.

Throughout the journey of building The Gap, family was always a priority.

Don’s father died in 1981 due to a stroke.

Mickey Drexler was vital to the evolution of The Gap to a vertically-integrated, private-label retailer.

In 1984, Maggie Gross began investing in magazine and television advertising.

In 1983, The Gap bought Banana Republic Safari and Travel Clothing from the Zeiglers for $325,000, plus bonuses based on profits. The Zeiglers left in 1987 after some conflict with management. You can also get great clothes from Adele Fans Merchandise

By 1986, there were 65 total stores.

In 1984, The Gap bought Pottery Barn, which was soon sold to Williams-Sonoma after a bumpy ride.

In the mid 80s, The Gap invested in fashion design and rebranded itself as a fashionable clothing retailer, through the Corporate Individuals of Style campaign, emphasizing khakis.

GapKids (1986) and babyGap (1989) were the brainchildren of Mickey Drexler and both an instant hit.

In 1986, The Gap expanded globally. Don had difficulty convincing management on the idea, but persisted regardless.

Sales in Japan were slow partially because the customers were too polite to disturb the neatly organized merchandise.

There were several legal battles involving trademarks in Europe and, then, in Japan.

After stock price declines in 1992, Mickey Drexler decided to create a lower-priced brand called Gap Warehouse, which was eventually rebranded Old Navy, based on the name of a pub in France.

Old Navy was a fantastic hit and propelled The Gap performance for many years.

What happened next after stepping down from CEO?

In 1995, Mickey Drexler became CEO and Don stepped down to chairman of the board. McKinsey helped in the transition.

As a bigger, more important company, it was easier to get high quality people to join the board of directors.

Scaling so fast led to inefficiencies, so The Gap invested heavily in computer systems during the 90’s to help alleviate the issue.

The Gap expanded into fragrances and body care starting in 1994.

In business, offense is product innovation and defense is operational excellence.

The Gap always remained very entrepreneurial, which is rare in a Fortune 500 company.

The 90’s saw very successful Gap ad campaigns, including “Swing Dancers”. Old Navy ad campaigns were more family-oriented and nostalgic.

Stock options, restricted stock grants, and a discount stock purchase plan helped retain top talent.

Operational excellence allowed new store locations in smaller communities and town.

The Gap’s e-commerce strategy early on was first, observe. Then launch when the time is right. In 1999, when other e-commerce companies crumbled during holiday, The Gap performed very well.

From the time Don left college, he looked for business situations that would not only put food on the table, but would give him the exhilaration that only tough challenges provide.

Don went bodysurfing for the last time in 1994, at the age of sixty-six, but was able to continue swimming by building an indoor pool.

Doris and Don collected modern art as a hobby and were supporters of the SFMOMA.

Don also devoted time to politics, specifically with the goal of making SF (and the USA) more business-friendly.

Don was also active in creating the Presidio Trust.

Don’s burning passion was education. He joined the Columbia Park Boys Club board of directors, then later the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Other organizations served: UC Berkeley School of Business, Stanford GSB, Princeton University, UCSF, Bay Area Life Sciences Alliance.

Don also helped keep the San Francisco Giants in SF.

Don served on the boards of Ross Stores, Charles Schwab, Air Touch, and KQED.

The family investment office was originally established for buying the San Francisco Giants.

Investments in VC Rosewood paid off through good investments in Hooked On Phonics and Noah’s Bagels.

The Fishers are a very close family and look for opportunities that would benefit multiple generations. They can be patient and reap the rewards consistent with that patience.

The family invested heavily in timberland, much to the chagrin of environmental activists.

It’s better to give money to good causes while you’re still alive.

In their philanthropy, Don and Doris preferred to support specific projects and capital projects, over supporting operating expenses. Endowments are established for operating expenses.

Doris and Don invested in Edison School Project and supported KIPP.