Why Are Kids So Damn Annoying?

Angry ChildLet’s face it. You try to be a good, patient parent, but there comes a time (usually called “day time” or “night time”) when your kids drive you insane, and you can’t make sense of why they treat you the way they do, when you’re only trying to be nice to them.

You try to control their behavior (so they wouldn’t be so annoying and can grow up to be responsible adults), but that never seems to work. They’re committed to testing your patience, and usually succeed in seeing you crack.

So why are kids so damn annoying, and what can you do, as a parent, to correct this?

Luckily for you, I have 2 tips to help you “deal” with your pesky children:

1) Your kids aren’t the problem:

When it comes to parenting, and almost any situation in life where your patience is tested, it’s not the situation that’s the problem, but your fear that you won’t be able to handle the situation effectively.

You’re afraid of making a mistake. You’re afraid of not knowing what to do, or not having enough personal strength and resilience to manage yourself in that situation. You feel that you’ll be judged by others for not being a good parent (or a good human being).

At times you’re struggling with another issue that’s making you feel anxious and worried, and your children aren’t giving you enough space to think your problem through, so you see them as the problem, without realizing that you’re only taking out your frustration at them.

But because your children aren’t to blame, there’s no reason to take your frustration out at them.

Be aware of the issues that annoy you, and look for ways to deal with these issues, rather than suppress your feelings about them.

Don’t be harsh on yourself, or harsh on your children.

2) Your kids are kids:

We tend to feel frustrated when we want things to be different than what they are. We expect a dial-up Internet connection to behave like a broadband line, and get frustrated when our expectations aren’t met. We snap when we drop a glass vase and it shatters into a million pieces because we don’t want a glass vase to break. We fume when our children don’t behave the way we want them to, because we expect them to behave like mature adults, and not as children.

But kids are kids, and will behave as kids. They’re not fully mature, so they don’t know how to handle every situation effectively, and don’t have proper control over their emotions, or a sound understanding of how the world (and social customs) work. How many adults do you know that act maturely in every situation? So why do we expect children to behave impeccably?

It’s important to treat children as children, and not to take any shortcuts in their upbringing by condemning them for not behaving as adults, or expecting them to follow our instructions, without giving them room to think for themselves.

It’s wonderful to see children behave as children (which is not always apparent, given other life challenges we face!), and the natural phase of human development they’re going through. How they discover things for the first time. How they try to voice their opinions and express their feelings. How they meet new challenges: what they have the courage to face, and what they’re too afraid to confront. How they try to mimic your behavior and what expressions they learn to use. How they develop their likes and dislikes.

Whenever you find yourself getting annoyed by your children, remember that they are children, and you shouldn’t be expecting any more from them than they are able to do at this part of their development.

See the world through their eyes, and you might appreciate what they’re going through. 🙂

Photo credit: mindaugasdanys

Intellectual Parenting

Why It’s Wrong To Obsess Over The Right Answer


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
~ Mark Twain

Parents and teachers often have the greatest of intentions and genuine concern for their children’s well-being and education, but it is all too common for educators to take the wrong approach to education, which impedes learning rather than facilitate it.

Many of us carry psychological scars as a result of our schooling, which continue to our adulthood, without us ever consciously addressing these scars. We have come to accept that learning is difficult and is taxing on the brain, without realizing why that is.

One of the worst mistakes educators commit is obsessing over the right answer, rather than encourage independent thinking.

This isn’t to say that any answer is equally valid to any other, or that we all have unique answers based on unique perspectives. In many issues, there is a right answer and a heap of wrong answers.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, as human beings, we need to know how to use our brains for thinking, in the same way we learn how to use our legs for walking.

Being told to memorize answers, without knowing why they’re true, bypasses the thinking process, and sees the human brain as a storage house, with no cognitive apparatus that acts on and analyzes the information it stores.

But the human brain is a marvelous computer, not a hard drive.

It is crucial that we feel comfortable thinking for ourselves, without being afraid of making mistakes every now and then. And the more we refine our thinking, the fewer mistakes we are likely to make. In the same way an infant struggles to walk at first, and constantly falters during his initial attempts, then walks more and more steadily as he learns how to use his legs and body, we need to go through a similar learning process when it comes to the use of our rational faculty.

This learning should have come at an early age, but well-meaning educators were too concerned with filling our brains with information rather than encourage us to develop our own thinking.

It is impossible to develop understanding without knowing how to think. We can memorize information without too much mental processing. But understanding involves connecting bits of information together, and looking for consistency between them to form a bigger picture from all the smaller pieces. That involves thinking.

Understanding is an essential component to healthy living. It helps us make sense of daily events and allows us to reach conclusions based on the knowledge we already possess, thereby expanding our knowledge through mental effort. Trying to hold disconnected factoids about the world in our brains can become too taxing for our memory recall. Understanding helps us make our way from one piece of information to another, based on the connections that link them together and the context they share.

I usually don’t ask my students for the right answer. I ask them for an answer (any answer that conveys their understanding), and base my explanation on what they already understand (or what they have misunderstood). That way I respect their own thinking, but offer them guidance on where they went wrong and how they can reach the right answer. Some students feel too embarrassed to reveal their ignorance, or to give a wrong answer (a sign of bad education), and opt for a shrug of the shoulders or a blank: “I don’t know.”

Learning involves a great deal of mistakes, and there’s no reason to feel guilty or bad about making intellectual errors. We don’t learn by hiding our ignorance. We learn by revealing what we know, and being open to opportunities to improve our thinking. We should also encourage our children to think for themselves, rather than snap at them whenever they say something nonsensical.

For example, if your child came to you and said: “Pigs can fly!”

It’s not wise to reply: “You idiot! What made you think they can fly? Pigs can’t fly!”

A better approach would be to encourage your child to think for himself by asking thought-provoking questions and offering facts for him to consider: “How can pigs fly? They don’t have wings.”

If your child says: “They can use a rocket!” then his initial statement was right, and there’s no need to undermine his creative thinking process. That’s a mark of intelligence, not wild imagination, because he considered an alternative way to flying that doesn’t involve wings!

It’s this kind of thinking that should be encouraged by educators, and exercised by children and adults alike.

Photo credit: jurvetson


4 Simple Steps to Taming Your Work

Taming the Big Beast

One of (if not the) biggest obstacle to life balance comes from our Professional life area. More often than not, our work goes on a rampage, destroying all the precious time we set aside for family and fun. The most common approach to handling work is throwing more hours at it, in the hope of satisfying its insatiable appetite.

But spending more time doing work doesn’t translate to getting more and better results. In fact, the more time we spend working, the less efficient we become and the greater the damage we cause to our lives, our well-being and, paradoxically, our work.

The idea that you need more time to get more things done makes sense in theory, but performs terribly in practice. It’s best to abandon this worn-out idea and look for a better theory that truly reflects the reality we live in.

Below are 4 very simple steps that can help you tame your work and get more done at the same time!

Yes, life is good. 😀

1- Set a limit to the number of hours you work a day

How many hours do you currently spend working?

Now, I want you to take a deep breath and set your daily limit 1 or 2 hours less than the time you currently spend working.

Sounds insane? Well, it gets even weirder as you progress through the steps below.

In her fabulous book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam points out that the time we spend “working” isn’t fully packed with actual work. A great deal of our work day is wasted doing things inefficiently. I’m willing to bet that your approach to work can be improved, and shaving an hour or two from your work day will force you to consider ways you can improve your approach, rather than default to the ineffective approach of working more hours. (I’m doing Laura’s book a grave disservice by mentioning it briefly in this post, but I’ll be offering a full review of the book once I finish reading it!)

Do you have to attend every meeting you’re asked to attend? Do you have to check your email account every 3 minutes? Can you limit the distractions that pull you away from your work and out of your “zone”?

Once you set a daily limit to the number of hours you will work, use a stopwatch to record how long you spend working each day. When you reach your daily limit, you must stop working and tend to any of your other life areas.

It may feel painful at first, but you’ll adjust to it. After all, spending more hours working is a losing strategy. There’s no need to cling to it any further.

2- Set realistic daily goals

The reason why work doesn’t seem to finish is because it never does!

There will always be things for you to do. You cross off a couple of items from your to-do list, and 5 new items make their way to the list. That’s a fact you’ll have to accept and fully embrace. There’s no need to fight against it, in the same way you wouldn’t stand on the shore and demand that the tides change their direction. Fighting against facts of nature is another losing strategy.

So what’s the solution?

You set realistic daily goals for you to achieve. Once your daily goals are met, you can call it a (work) day.

You can choose to do more work if you still haven’t reached your daily work limit. But even if you leave those extra tasks incomplete, you have succeeded in completing the tasks you set out to complete for the day.

Without setting daily goals, you may feel that there’s more to be done, and you won’t feel satisfied with your work, no matter how much you do and how long you work. That’s because you’re trying to fit an unlimited amount of work into a finite number of hours a day. A losing strategy, indeed.

3- Break work time to short sessions of focused work

Having an 8-hour chunk of time a day will go to waste if you don’t break it down to shorter sessions of focused work. You can’t remain focused for 8 straight hours without risking brain damage or physical exhaustion. To make the most of your work time, set a specific task to work on, then focus on it completely for 25 to 30 minutes, without any distractions. Have a short break that takes your mind off the task for a bit (2 to 5 minutes), then continue working on your task if it’s not completed, or work on a different task if it is.

If you want to do a few tasks that won’t take you more than 10 minutes, make sure you set a time limit for them, so that you don’t spend more time than you need to, and you can learn to do things more efficiently, without succumbing to distractions or mental numbness (where you stare blankly at your computer screen or papers, not knowing what to do next).

4- Redefine “work” time

OK, this deserves another deep breath and an open mind.

Now that you’ve set your daily work limit, your daily goals, and are tackling your tasks in short bursts of focused work, you need to be aware of what constitutes “work” time where you keep your stopwatch running, and when to stop it.

You took that deep breath, right?

I think another deep breath is in order.

You keep the stopwatch running during your work sessions, while you plan what to work on, in the breaks between work sessions, when you’re distracted, during your commute to work and whenever you think and worry about work!

Take another deep breath if you have to!

It sounds crazy, I know. But it makes sense.


Because when we consider how we spend our days, we don’t realize how much time is wasted without us making the most out of it. What do you do during your commute to work? And if you were to consider it as part of your work time, how will you make the most of it to advance your career?

We tolerate distractions because we think we can take time to compensate for them. If we get distracted for 20 minutes, we’ll just add another 20 minutes to our work day.

We can prepare a cup of coffee in 5 minutes, but we choose to spend 20 minutes walking to the kitchen in slow motion.

We spend time with family, but we’ve kept our attention on our work. How does that make you feel, knowing that you can’t do your work because you’re with your family? How does it make your family feel, knowing that you’re not truly present with them?

We allow ourselves to worry about work, when there’s absolutely no reason to (it doesn’t help our work progress, does it?). But by considering “worry” time as part of “work” time, we will be forced to stop worrying, or else we’ll run out of hours to work in!

You need to be realistic about the time you’re spending at work and the time you spend getting to work. What can you do to reduce the amount of time you spend commuting? Can you negotiate days where you work from home? Can you spend the time commuting more constructively, by listening to an audiobook, for example?

If you can genuinely spend your commute on a recreational activity (e.g. reading/listening to a novel) or to strengthen social bonds (e.g. if you commute with a family member, friend, or colleague) or to keep fit (e.g. you cycle to work), then you don’t need to keep the stopwatch running. Otherwise, it forms part of your work time and comes out of your daily limit.

The steps above are simple, but they’re not necessarily easy, because they demand that we break out of an ineffective mold that’s preventing us from leading a balanced life and making the most out of the time we have. It forces us to think of creative ways to make the most use of our time. It’s uncomfortable to walk outside the safe confines of that mold we’ve grown so accustomed to, but it’s worth it.

Set your daily work limit, begin to define daily goals, work through them in focused sessions, and account for all the time you spend on work, so that you can realize where your time goes, and what you can do about it.

Photo credit: Manish Bansal


Waiting for Gratitude

sundial_specialists8It’s extremely easy to develop an unhealthy obsession with gratitude (yes, there are healthy obsessions, too!), where we expect to be thanked for every good deed we do, and can’t seem to move on with our lives when others don’t express their appreciation of our works.

We desperately seek an answer to the moral riddle:

If a good deed is done, and no one expresses gratitude for it, is it still a good deed?

And lean towards the view that it’s only a good deed when gratitude is expressed. Otherwise, it’s just a deed.

Therefore, to bring meaning to our lives and to sprinkle moral goodness on our actions, we wait for gratitude.

And wait some more.

And, you guessed it… Wait even more.

At times we drop hints: “I vacuumed the house when you were out.”

Other times we ask questions: “Did you notice the house is vacuumed?”

And desperate times call for desperate measures: “I know I did a bad job at vacuuming the house. I’m terrible at it. But I thought you might be happy to come home to a clean house.”

When we don’t receive the gratitude we expect, we lose motivation for doing more good deeds. It just doesn’t seem worth it. After all, it’s not a good deed without gratitude, right?

We fail to come to terms with 3 important facts that pave the way for joyous living:

  1. People aren’t good at expressing gratitude: Even when people are moved to tears by your kindness and generosity, they may not know how to express their gratitude. At times, the more appreciative someone is, the less likely they are to express their appreciation, simply because they don’t know how to. How do you thank someone who saved your son from a burning building? I don’t know, either.
  2. Different people express gratitude differently: Even if people are comfortable with expressing gratitude, it might not be in the way you expect them to. Just because you received an email thanking you for your efforts and not a bouquet of flowers doesn’t mean that your help isn’t appreciated. It might just mean that others don’t express gratitude the way you would.
  3. Good deeds are good, even if they’re not appreciated: Using gratitude as your sole motivational trigger is unhealthy. Why? For starters, see Fact #1 above. Another reason why depending on gratitude for motivation is unhealthy is that good deeds are an extension of your own values, not how others perceive – or appreciate – your actions. Cynical people often question the intentions of those who find joy in helping others. Does that mean you should question and doubt your own intentions just because others don’t expect to meet people that have goodwill towards fellow human beings? Of course not. And it shouldn’t deter you from the good work you can do in the world.

It’s better not to expect gratitude than to base your life on receiving it. By appreciating your own actions and being aware of the values you are living by, you can fuel your inner drive to make the world a  better place.

Don’t wait for permission or approval to do good.

Be good because YOU deserve to be.

Photo credit: specialists8


7 Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier In My Life


My blogger buddy Abubakar Jamil recently wrote a post on the 22 things he wished he had known earlier, then invited his friends to share their own lists.

There are quite a few things I wish I had known earlier, and Abubakar’s invitation was a great opportunity to explore my own thoughts, and the ideas that I have arrived at, which I believe would be beneficial to others to know early in life.

This is my own list:

1- Never regret your past

“Saying ‘if only’ opens the door for Satan.”
~ Islamic proverb

Most of the frustration we experience comes from wishing that our past was somehow different, and this list may encourage this type of thinking: “If only I had learned these things earlier, then my life would have turned out differently!”

But the past can’t be changed. No amount of wishing can bring about such a change, no matter how pure our intentions are. The wisest approach to take is to accept your past for what it is, with all the mistakes you have done and all the bruises you carry with you to this day. Accepting your past is an important step towards change, since it liberates you from trying to control what’s beyond your power to control, and to focus on what’s within your power to control: the decisions you make right now, and in the future.

This list isn’t my way of lamenting over what happened in the past, but to acknowledge and appreciate the ideas that have helped me change course, which I hope others will find useful in shaping the rest of their lives.

2- Think for yourself

I used to avoid thinking for myself out of fear that I’ll reach wrong conclusions, especially when it came to religion and ethics.

Having others think on my behalf was a safe bet, except for the fact that it never is.

“But I’m too ignorant” isn’t an excuse, either. You need to develop your own thinking apparatus to understand life for yourself. You can’t borrow other people’s brains or their conclusions.

Not only is it intellectually unwise, but psychologically destructive.

If you bypass your own reasoning process, you won’t be able to work with your own emotions and develop the right mindset to approach life with.

Ask people questions, especially if they’re more knowledgeable than you. Discuss your own thoughts with them. But don’t put your mind on hold because someone else is willing to think on your behalf.

3- Selfishness isn’t a bad thing

There is a world-wide epidemic that considers selfishness to be evil. If you do something for your own well-being, without benefiting anyone else, then you’re a selfish good-for-nothing. This attitude to life made me feel guilty whenever I pursued anything that brought me pleasure, without it being beneficial to others.

Your well-being is your own responsibility. It’s silly to put other people’s interests and concerns before your own so that you can be considered “moral” (because it would also mean that you’re going to demand that others put your concerns before their own, otherwise they’d be selfish good-for-nothings).

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be considerate. Far from it. Being selfish, and respecting other people’s right to the pursuit of their own happiness is the foundation of the Golden Rule.

4- Happiness on earth is a good thing

I was brought up with the idea that life on earth is of little worth, and the only value it has is in paving the way for the afterlife. Therefore, it was irrelevant how I felt, and more important that I did the things that guaranteed me a lofty place in paradise. In fact, activities that brought happiness and pleasure were either seen as distractions or devilish deceptions that were taking me away from “God’s path.”

I have come to understand that happiness on earth is the basis for a moral code suitable for human beings. The idea that individual happiness conflicts with morality is a Kantian perversion that’s at the heart of most human problems, and I wasted many years of my life running away from happiness rather than pursuing it.

5- Religion should serve mankind, not the other way around

I was a religious extremist back in university, and thought that life consisted of making sacrifices for the sake of my religion, rather than appreciating the teachings it carried to advance my own life, and contribute to the lives of those around me. Religion is the means, not the end. It exists to serve mankind (most, if not all, religious teachings agree that God does not benefit from religion).

When it becomes a tool to divide and destroy lives and relationships, you know that something is wrong, and it’s best to make that observation early on in life.

6- Choose Both/And over Either/Or

It seems that the “either/or” mindset is the dominating attitude to life. We are expected to make compromises and choose between one of two options in all aspects of life. You either want to make money, or be happy. You either become successful at work, or spend time with your family. You either want to be intelligent or physically fit. We’re always expected to choose one option and abandon the other.

I’ve learned that in most cases where we have to choose between competing options, we can have them both. Most dichotomies are false. They are presented with too many artificial limitations, that we fail to recognize ways in which we can have all we want. You either do something that advances your well-being at other people’s expense, or advances other people’s well-being at your own expense. But we don’t think of ways where no one has to make sacrifices and everybody wins, because we assume that there has to be a loser at the end of the day.

Life isn’t about compromises, so don’t make any when you don’t have to.

7- You are not your self-image

This is an extremely liberating realization, but it has to “click” with you before you can reap its benefits. Your “self-image” is who you think you are. But who you think you are isn’t really “you”. It’s an impression you have of yourself, based on past experiences, what others have told you about yourself and your obsession with putting labels on yourself as being “good”, “bad”, “shy”, “confident”, etc.

You take every opportunity to add a new label on yourself or reinforce an old one. Every action you do (or avoid) has to “say something about who you are,” which you use to shape your self-image.

But every action you do (or avoid) has something to say about the decisions you have made in the past, and it is up to you to change your decisions in future circumstances. The first thing you can do is drop your self-image, and focus on making the right decision in every situation you face. Don’t worry about judging yourself or what others will think of you. Judge the decision, and you’ll be able to escape the grip of a false self-image that limits your options because you want to act consistently with that self-image.

Throughout your life you’ve been continuously asking yourself: “Who am I?” (i.e. what is my self-image), then proceeded to act accord to the answer. If you’ve been wondering why change is so difficult, the reason at the heart of your struggle is: you are remaining faithful to your self-image. Drop your self-image, and you will be able to realize the options open to you, which you’ve never considered before because they clashed with your self-image.

*     *     *

These are some of the ideas I wish I had learned earlier in my life, which I look forward to mindfully living by for the rest of my life.

If you’re a blogger and would like to write up your own list of life lessons, check out Abubakar’s invitation and share your ideas with the world!

Photo credit: guldfisken