Pancakes and honey:
Realising personal responsibility
for high performance in bright children
Alan D. Thompson, ACC
The human brain is a surprising entity in that its abilities and potentials have yet to be completely understood. We know that it is far more complex and powerful than the most advanced computer, even though a fraction of the size. It also has abilities of a subtle nature that have yet to be discovered, even though we can glean some insights into what it can do…
Michael Domeyko Rowland
Bright children have a solid foundation to build on. From that foundation however, it can often take a bit of work to bring them from brightness to brilliance.
Meanwhile, high performers are often already living at a high level of performance, but they can still improve. Sometimes, they may need a small adjustment to their way of showing up in the world to affect major change. What got them to their current level of high performance is not the same as what will take them to the next level using their full capacity.
In a recent survey by Australian Mensa, parents were asked about the top challenges facing their gifted children. The top response was ‘effectively using their full potential or capacity’ (59%), followed closely by ‘persistence and task commitment’ (46%).
One of my recent clients was a profoundly gifted young adult (we’ll call him Bill), going through his early years at university. Coming from a stable and supportive family environment, and with a deep confidence in his own abilities and needs, Bill’s parents had invested a significant amount of time and money to put him through one of my full coaching programs.
Midway through the program, I asked Bill to complete a homework exercise called “Lifewrite” designed by Australian author Michael Domeyko Rowland. In his bestselling book Absolute Happiness, Michael outlines how this works. The process involves writing down where you want to go, what you want to do, and who you want to be over the next few years. He calls the process of writing these things down: “the single most important technique you will ever do”, adding, “it is far easier to create the experiences you want when you are able to describe them with clarity.”
Bill did a spectacular job of scripting his Lifewrite: several pages of detailed goals and narrative, describing his new and enjoyable life over the next three years. While debriefing the document with him, I noticed a curious pattern. He had written a handful of negative experiences into his own ideal goals. I brought up one example with him directly.
“Here, you write ‘Bill makes pancakes for himself for breakfast. Unfortunately, he has run out of honey and is very disappointed’. What decision have you made to include this experience in your life?”
Laughing it off, he explained that it just seemed like a funny thing to have happen, and he felt that it made the story more interesting.
I lightly clarified that our thoughts become our words become our reality, and that this written process was very real, and would bring these things into his experience. Not as some woo-woo new-age quackery, but as a widely accepted and proven method. While the idea of running out of honey might seem like a quirky thing to write, the very act of putting it down on paper would embed it firmly in his mind as something he wants to bring about. I asked Bill to pay particular attention over the next few months as his life unfolded from the written story that he had created.
Toward the end of the program—a couple of months later—this came up again, in our casual conversation before a session.
“I made pancakes this morning. But I didn’t realise until after I’d made them that I was out of honey. I had to walk all the way to the shops and back so I could have honey on my pancakes!” he told me. There was an obvious connection between his writing exercise and his real life. He had imagined, written, rehearsed, and then acted out his own negative experience.
American child psychologist Dr Maureen Neihart in her book Peak Performance for Smart Kids, tells us: “The popular saying, ‘Think positive,’ is supported by the research on imagery and mental rehearsal. Essentially anything your children would like to do better will be helped by mental rehearsal… It’s like a mini-road map. It provides a picture of where one wants to go and how to get there.”
It is true that bright children have the power to change their own lives. And with such strong foundations from their advanced brains—a genuine asset in the 21st century—they should be encouraged to create the best possible lives for themselves.
There are smatterings of conversation around this topic, but very few of them cover the specific needs of bright children. This is not about effort. Neither is this about mindset. Stanford Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck’s popular—and grossly oversimplified—theory of fixed vs growth mindsets is limited. Indeed, her 2015 article revisited that concept completely, with an apologetic follow-up: “Maybe we originally put too much emphasis on sheer effort… Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures.”
Rather, creating their best possible life is about a child being able to realise their own innate capacity—and their personal responsibility for being able to create something powerful. Parents, teachers, and professionals can integrate this vital understanding into their support of bright children, to ensure that they recognise that they have fundamental responsibility for how their lives turn out and for what they create in their own experience. For all the research that has been conducted on giftedness and performance over the last hundred years, this core understanding sticks out.
In a presentation to the 2015 International Conference on Illuminating the Spectrum of Giftedness and Talent Development held in Brisbane, Professor Miraca Gross told the attendees: “The most effective gifted children consider themselves responsible for their own development, and they understand that they alone are the prime factor in their own academic success or failure.”
When bright children see and understand the link between their thinking and their performance, they open up a whole new world of effectiveness. This means that they are responsible for all parts of their own growth, including these five aspects:
- Passion: their own joyful and inspired commitment to where they are going.
- Education: their own willingness to learn new things.
- Goal setting: focusing attention, promoting persistence, and bringing an energy to life.
- Connection: bringing themselves into relationships with others.
- Resilience: coping with stress and anxiety, being optimistic.
While it is easy for a child to blame others—parents, teachers, professionals—for their effectiveness, the earlier that a bright child or young adult realises their own role in affecting their own lives and creating something important, the earlier they can perform at their highest level.
They already have the pancake stack. They need to realise that they alone are responsible for adding the honey!
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
Gallwey, T. (2000). The Inner Game of Work. London: Orion.
Gross, M. U. M. (2015). Ninety-five years of longitudinal studies on giftedness; what should we know by now? Presented at the 2015 International Conference on Illuminating the Spectrum of Giftedness and Talent Development in Brisbane, Australia.
Neihart, M. (2008). Peak Performance for Smart Kids: Strategies and Tips for Ensuring School Success. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Rowland, M. D. (1995). Absolute Happiness: The Way to a Life of Complete Fulfilment. Carson, CA: Hay House.
Thompson, A. D. (2015). Practice, practice, practice: Promoting passionate persistence. http://lifearchitect.com.au/articles/persistence-paper
Thompson, A. D. & King, K. (2015). 2015 Gifted Children’s Survey Summary Report. Australian Mensa.