One morning last spring, my youngest child announced that he was going to ride a bike without training wheels. He hopped on with confidence, but after about 10 minutes of wobbles and falls, he threw the bike down in frustration.
“It takes a while to learn how to ride,” I reminded him.
“But mom,” he replied. “I don’t want to learn how to ride a bike — I want to know how to ride a bike!”
I get it. I often want that magic wand myself — to bypass the stretch-zone of learning and move straight to mastery. This is particularly true when it comes to building habits. For example, we know from research that gratitude, optimism, and mindfulness can help us navigate life’s challenges. But if I only try deep breathing when I’m in crisis mode, I’m going to fall off the bike. And how often do we expect our children to exhibit these traits without giving them concrete opportunities to practice them?
I teach a weekly workshop to middle schoolers on how to build the social and emotional habits that help us thrive. This semester, I’m conducting a bit of an experiment with my students that has rippled into my parenting: the 3-minute “3L Reset.”
- L #1: Look Backward with Gratitude
- L #2: Look Forward with Hope
- L #3: Look Inward with Mindfulness
Here’s how I structure this short opening exercise:
Look Backward with Gratitude
The Prompt: What are three things that have happened in the last 48 hours that you are grateful for? Nothing is too big or small to mention! The more specific the better.
The Reasoning: I adapted this exercise from Dr. Martin Seligman’s “Three Good Things in Life” experiment where “participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week.” The result? This intervention “increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months.”
This matches up with research on gratitude. Expressing thankfulness helps people “feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Our brain often hyper-focuses on what’s not going well. As a matter of survival, we are wired to pay more attention to the tiger hiding in the bushes than the wildflowers growing on it. Gratitude offers a gentle balance.
Here’s what I’ve noticed with my students and…