A Healthy Mind Comes from Autonomy and a Sense of Control

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A new book authors William Stixrud and Ned Johnson describe a healthy way to raise children is to let me e themselves. In the book, The Self-Driven Child, they argue that children – and adults – benefit from a sense of control over their lives. Indeed, stress and anxiety increase when one feels that they cannot alter their surroundings or course of action. For a healthy child and a healthy adult life give yourself some slack to have control over things.

From a neurological perspective, when we experience a healthy sense of control, our prefrontal cortex (the executive functioning part of our brain) regulates the amygdala (a part of the brain’s threat detection system that initiates the fight or flight response). When the prefrontal cortex is in charge, we are in our right minds. We feel in control and not anxious. So, the fact that kids are feeling more anxiety, by definition, suggests that their amygdalas are more active, which indicates that they are more likely to feel overwhelmed, stuck, or helpless.

Research on motivation has suggested that a strong sense of autonomy is the key to developing the healthy self-motivation that allows children and teens to pursue their goals with passion and to enjoy their achievements.

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Self Control is Like the Flu: It’s Contagious

I know it’s strange to say that self control is contagious: but it is, so you should catch it by having friends that are good practitioners of self control.

“The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control,” said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the UGA department of psychology. “And by exhibiting self-control, you’re helping others around you do the same.”

People tend to mimic the behavior of those around them, and characteristics such as smoking, drug use and obesity tend to spread through social networks. But vanDellen�s study is thought to be the first to show that self-control is contagious across behaviors. That means that thinking about someone who exercises self-control by regularly exercising, for example, can make your more likely to stick with your financial goals, career goals or anything else that takes self-control on your part.

VanDellen’s findings, which are published in the early online edition of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, are the result of five separate studies conducted over two years with study co-author Rick Hoyle at Duke University.

In the first study, the researchers randomly assigned 36 volunteers to think about a friend with either good or bad self-control. Those that thought about a friend with good self-control persisted longer on a handgrip task commonly used to measure self-control, while the opposite held true for those who were asked to think about a friend with bad self-control.

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