Role model lead-lag and teach it to your kids.

Phil McInnes

How often do we hear instant gratification being lamented? And, we agree!

Self-regulation and self-motivation are key emotional capabilities. Kids who develop these capabilities are more likely to perform better at school, stay out of trouble and less likely to develop antisocial habits.

Applying lead-lag principles is a good way to teach and practice some of the aspects of self-regulation and self-motivation and experience the value of delayed gratification. Also, it is important to understand that something that you want is only really important or valuable to you to the degree that you are prepared to make sacrifices for it. I will give you an example that many of us have experienced and some ideas of how you may apply this invaluable insight with your kids.

Over the years, many of us have put on those unwanted kilograms and we look wistfully at those clothes in our wardrobe that we felt so good in. You set yourself the goal of losing 12 kilograms by your birthday in 3 months time. You feel this is achievable and you are highly motivated to get from 82 kg to 70 kg by your birthday. The problem is that the goal weight of 70 kg is a lag indicator and you will only know if you have achieved it on the day of your birthday. Even breaking it down into losing a kilogram a week is a lag indicator that you can only measure at the end of each week. But what are you going to do daily to ensure that you reach your goal? You need to decide on what the "leading" indicators are that ensure that you achieve your goal. In this case, you decide that there are 2 “leading” indicators, namely calories taken in and calories burned. You initially set yourself the goal of eating 1500 calories per day and doing 2000 steps. You load the apps on your smart phone and off you go. Each day, you can assess how well you have done. Let's say that at the end of week 1, you lose a kilogram, but at the end of week 2, you only lose half a kilogram. For week 3, to get back on track, you need to decrease your calorie intake or increase your exercise, or both. The fact is that this is something that you have control of and if the ultimate goal is really important to you, you will make the sacrifices required.

Let's apply it to young Doug. He really wants that Lego set. Do you give in to his constant nagging? Or, do you buy it for him and appease yourself by telling yourself that he has agreed to do some chores for you (which you know in your heart will not really happen). No, if the Lego set is of real importance to Doug, he has to be prepared to make some sacrifices to get it. You set up some lead objectives over say a month, against which he earns points or pocket money. He must be able to monitor his progress daily and have ways of getting back on track if he falls behind. Most importantly, at the end of the month, if he has met his lead objectives, he must achieve the lag objective of buying the Lego set. You are getting him to practice some of the elements of self-regulation and self-motivation, as well as make sacrifices to experience a delayed gratification that he values. In doing this, you are helping Doug to develop his self-mastery capability set.

Apply lead-lag as a family and involve your kids. It may be that you decide that having your own fresh vegetables would be great or that saving a bit extra for that family holiday at the end of the year will make it so much more fun. Set lead objectives together and egg each other on to achieve them.

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