Ashley Merryman: Rethinking Parenting Strategies, Understanding Healthy Competition, and Constantly Seeking Improvement


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What an honor to meet this mega-bestselling author in person in Los Angeles and crank out an interesting podcast! Ashley has been spreading the word about her two very important books for over a decade, speaking and consulting internationally to sports teams, business leaders, and parent and school groups. She also operates a cool non-profit tutoring program for inner city kids in LA. Her books, written with Stanford professor Po Bronson, have rocked our world and make us rethink the most basic notions about parenting and the nature of healthy competition. Interested researchers and readers are transcending dated and harmful cultural values and embraced the new possibilities communicated wonderfully by Ashley and Po.

The first book was called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children. The world of Carol Dweck, Stanford professor and author of Mindset, was highlighted. The idea that this effusive praise, obsession with boosting self-esteem, and helicopter parenting to ensure kids don’t suffer or fail was called into question. Kids need healthy struggle and setbacks to grow and develop resilience and determination. They benefit from adopting a “growth mindset,” where the emphasis is on effort and improvement rather than results. The research from Nurtureshock was the inspiration for the next book, Top Dog. If you are interested in competition and peak performance in any area (business, athletics, parenting), this book will provide lasting insights and strategies to be the best you can be, and not succumb to the dangers of a lame, ineffective approach to competition.

Interestingly, Ashley relates that she has been rethinking the emphasis placed on effort and instead prefers to focus on improvement. We all know how misdirected effort may not lead to improvement and can even be unhealthy—such as with an overtrained athlete or the college student who pulls all-nighters and eats Top Ramen in the name of delivering maximum effort. In these examples, excess effort or a narrow focus on effort alone will not lead to success or happiness. Reference my podcast about the Japanese Soccer Team and the Japanese cultural ethic of doryoku, translated as honorable effort. You could infer this means dispensing effort in a focused and productive manner to stimulate improvement.

Ashley garnered attention years ago for stating that the long-standing practice of giving every kid a trophy is a bad idea. After much reflection and controversy, Ashley is more certain than ever that this is a really bad idea! Listen to her go off about the many ways in which our cultural trophy policy cheapens the experience for everyone.

We also get into the groundbreaking article that changed my mindset and approach to parenting on the spot when I first read it in 2007. It’s called the Inverse Power of Praise and I did a blog post about it that I send to anyone who will listen. This article led to the NurtureShock book project. The article calls into question the self-esteem movement that has led to the widespread concerns about helicopter parenting today. Ashley talks about how to set rewards to generate optimum outcomes for competition. A local 5k promoting a healthy community (everyone gets a finisher medal, that’s fine), versus a contest to discover the most distinguished performers. A college application process for an Ivy League admission could be a good example: many competitors, few prizes.

You will love this show and be compelled to grab these books and go in for a deep immersion. Following is some details about Ashley and Po’s work, and accolades, to get you excited about Ashley and Po’s work: Ashley and Po have won nine national awards for reporting. Merryman's been on countless radio and television shows, while email, Facebook, and Twitter are filled with demands to read her essays, such as "Losing is Good for You," "How Not to Talk to Your Kids," and "Creativity Crisis." Among the awards for Top Dog was a "Best Book of the Month" by both Barnes & Noble and Amazon, while said it was the #1 book that every entrepreneur must read.  Top Dog is an astonishing blend of science and storytelling that reveals what's really in the heart of a champion. It's about the thrill of victory and the character-building agony of defeat. Testosterone and the neuroscience of mistakes. Why rivals motivate. How home field advantage gets you a raise. What teamwork really requires. It's baseball, Wall Street financial analysts, the SAT, sales contests, and Linux software. How before da Vinci and FedEx were innovators, first, they were great competitors. Olympians, professional athletes, and their coaches are already carrying Top Dog around in gym bags. It's in the briefcases of Wall Street traders and Madison Ave. madmen. Professional risk takers - from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to Vegas gamblers - are racing to master its ideas, while educators and philosophers are debating it the halls of academia.  Merryman and Bronson's previous book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, is also a New York Times bestseller, translated into sixteen languages to date. But beyond that, it has become one of the most influential books about children ever been published. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, Merryman and Bronson demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Merryman has written for Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York, the Guardian, and many more. A frequent commentator on radio and television, Merryman has appeared on shows such as: Fox & Friends; CNN's AC 360 and CNN Newsroom; The Charlie Rose Show; The Tavis Smiley Show; @KatieCouric; Canada AM; BBC World News; NPR's Tell Me More and On Point; and many others around the world. Honors for Merryman and Bronson include: the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Journalism; the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Award for Science Journalism; an "Audie" from the Audio Publishers Association; and two Clarion Awards. And their work is considered so substantial that scientists themselves rely on their reporting. Their work has been cited as a research authority in 80 academic journals and 260 books, and it is being used as text in universities around the world. You'll find references to their work in publications by the White House to speeches by politicians around the globe.  Merryman lives in Los Angeles, where she has directed a small all-volunteer tutoring program for inner-city kids for 15 years; in that time, her program has helped over 800 children. For her civic involvement, she received commendations from both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. An attorney, Merryman previously served as a speechwriter in the Clinton Administration. Merryman holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, a J.D. from the Georgetown University's Law Center, and a Certificate in Irish Studies from Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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