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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Let It Go - The Past Is In The Past

Tremaine du Preez

Regret and self judgement often cast long shadows over our lives. By understanding how we form these self judgements and keep regrets alive, we can begin to free ourselves of old hurts and unhelpful beliefs about who we are.

As we settle into January the hype, hangovers and happy new years that flooded our holidays disappear and we are, again, on the same path that we were on before.There's no new page, no clean sweep over an old chapter that we can leave behind at the stroke of midnight on the 31st of December. We bring everything with us into this new year. Everything. Old happiness and love, old hurts, regrets, judgements, opinions and pain. Some of these make long shadows that grow longer with every passing year. What if it doesn't have to be this way? What if we could go into this new year, loving every bit of ourself and our story - the good and not so good bits, dark and light?

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside

At 18, I couldn't afford to go to university, so I got a job as a secretary at a mutual fund company and promised myself that I would study part time to fulfil my dream of being a psychologist. When the firm I worked for offered to pay my tuition, I was overjoyed. But there was a catch; I had to study a business or finance related degree. When you are 18 and broke and someone offers to fund a fortune in university fees and give you time off to study for exams as well - you don't say no. So I studied economics. I spent 8 years finishing my undergrad degree and the next 10 years regretting it. Every single day. Now, I could never be a psychologist. I had blown it. I was stuck in finance and would never fulfil the one clear calling I had since I was in junior school. I dragged this regret around with me for so long that it just became part of who I was. The girl who sold herself out, who will never live her dream. What a waste. I had no-one to blame but myself, my 18 year old self.

Many of my coaching clients have similar baggage that goes everywhere with them and it sounds like this, "I'm still fat, I still don't have that promotion, I'm still single, I made a bad decision years ago and can't forgive myself." "Of course," they say, "I count my blessings: I have a wonderful daughter, son, wife, husband, dog, job. But if I could just be a little more of this or a little less of that then I'd be so much happier." 

Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I've tried

The years passed and 40 appeared on my horizon. Would I allow myself to go into my 4th decade with this shadow of regret still looming large?  By now I knew that regret and self judgement were tricks of memory and I knew how to change their effects, too.
It was time to release these unhelpful stories and memories that I had allowed to define who I was - or believed I was.

Neuroscience teaches us that memories that fire together, wire together. Like a smell that takes you back to a place or person because the memory of the smell and that place or person were created together, and so are recalled together.

When you think of yourself does another thought jump in there and remind you of what you are or don't have? Perhaps you always remember that you just aren't confident, knowledgeable or experienced enough to (insert what you really want here). Self image is the memory that we recall every time we think of ourselves. And every time we think about ourselves and recall that memory, we strengthen it. Until one day it becomes a belief. An unconscious knowing about ourself that we no longer challenge.

Conceal, don't feel

If you truly want to release yourself from a hurtful self image or regret, then try changing the thoughts you have every time you think about yourself. This will create a new neural pathway with different information in the section of your long-term memory labelled 'self'. But there's a catch here, too. You actually have to truly believe these new thoughts. If you believe you are overweight or lacking in self confidence, then standing in front of your mirror and telling yourself otherwise - "Oh, look how thin I am," or, "Boy, I'm so confident I could take on toastmasters," is not going to help you. In fact, the cognitive dissonance this creates can lead to all sorts of other unhelpful ailments. 

Instead, when you think of yourself or someone calls attention to you, purposefully remember positive qualities that you truly believe about yourself. "I'm a good mother or father. I'm resilient. I'm faithful. I'm kind. I'm a great dresser. I have gorgeous eyes." Slowly, the previous unhelpful memory will fade as you no longer strengthen it through recall. And you might just find yourself actually losing weight, loving yourself more or being more confident. I've seen how these small quirks of memory change lives in wonderful ways.

I'm never going back, the past is in the past

You are not defined by what you are or have achieved but by what you believe of yourself over time. Others can only define you if you allow their opinions to influence the memories (thoughts) that you constantly make and recall about yourself. 

The fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all

So I knew how to release this persistent regret of mine but was I ready to do that? Would I know myself without it? Oh gosh. Was I ready to move on? What would my new story be?

As I went through this process, Disney's <em>Frozen</em> was released. I'm trying not to read too much into it, but I think there are reasons other than a catchy tune that make it such a popular song, loved by old and young. You know what I mean?

So as the new year blows in; let the storm rage on, regret never controlled us anyway. 

Tremaine du Preez is the author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, executive coach and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Singapore. This blog series is from her upcoming book, Raising Thinkers - preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime. She also blogs at the Huffington Post

5 Reasons Not To Set Goals For 2015 - Set Processes Instead

Tremaine du Preez

Are you one of the millions of people around the globe who wants to lose weight in 2015? Get in shape, take a course, get organised, save money or spend more time with your kids?

In my coaching practice we no longer help clients to set goals. Why? Well let's start with new year's resolutions: only 8% (1) of people that set them actually achieve them. We're in the business of making real changes, an 8% success rate isn't going to cut it.  Of course recording them as SMART goals works if you have a coach, buddy or boss to report to regularly, but alone (and who can keep a coach on the payroll forever?) we slip back into old habits like ice-cream down a cone in July. But that's not the only reason we've stopped setting goals. Here are 5 reasons followed by some ideas that will help you achieve your dreams in 2015. 

1. Goals are a constant reminder of what you haven't achieved
My son would love to get his 'pen licence' at school so he can move from writing in pencil to pen. It's been his 'goal' all year. Every week when his name is not called out another little part of him gives up on this dream. It no longer encourages him to write neater and try harder but is a constant reminder that he isn't good enough.

2. Goals force you to live in the future
Goals come with the expectation that you will be happier, healthier or more successful when you have achieved them."When I lose weight, I'll have more friends, be able to love myself or be taken seriously by my colleagues." They give us a reason for not finding these qualities in ourselves right now. Qualities reserved for our future self exclusively.

3. Once you've set them they're hard to get rid off
If you haven't really progressed towards your goal once the initial motivation runs out it won't simply disappear, it will hang around and continue to generate negative feelings. 

Joanne is a successful executive who came to us for coaching. She felt 15kg's overweight and loved nothing about herself. She brought along meal plans, food diaries, weight charts and a heavy heart. We discussed how she would feel without her history of failing to shed 15kg's. How she would feel without having that goal at all? Failing to lose weight had become a part of what defined her - her story.

Read on to see how we changed that.

4. Giving up a goal is bad for your health
People who don't reach their goals tend to set lower, more achievable goals over time - a natural self-protection mechanism. But disappointing yourself even once takes its toll on your body too. Failure releases the stress hormone cortisol and raises your blood pressure, which is especially harmful if the goal is continuously on your mind. 

5. Goals can lead to false conclusions
A failed goal can be seen as proof that things can't change. 

There is a better way of achieving your objectives

Before I begin writing a new book. I go through days of paralysis when I'm unable to write anything because all I can think about is having to put down 80 000 intelligent words in the correct order in 6 short months. I drink too much coffee, my heart murmur shouts at me and I bite my nails as I sit and watch the earth turn and the hours drip by. Tick tock. Then I panic because my publisher is expecting more than the nothing I currently have. 

I only move forward when I remind myself that a book is a collection of chapters that consist of paragraphs. Paragraphs are just single sentences of words strung together between periods. Today I have to write a paragraph, not a book. One idea, not 50. 

Set Processes not goals
Our journey creates our destination and the actions that we take everyday create our future success. Instead of setting goals with our clients, we set processes. We agree on the small and detailed steps that they must take everyday in order to move forward in the right direction. We are aware of the final goal that they would like to achieve, but they have no power over that goal. They have power over what they do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. That's what I'm interested in. That's worth talking about.

How Joanne changed her life
Joanne's previous weight loss plans had involved going to the gym, eating half of what was on her plate and giving up Friday drinks. Losing weight became associated with giving up the things that she enjoyed. So when she felt stressed or angry or tired she reverted straight back to eating what she shouldn't - and then felt guilty about it. 

So instead of focussing on losing weight, we focussed on the positive changes she could make everyday. Not changes where she would have to sacrifice anything but rather where she could add to her daily activities. To drink an extra glass of water between drinks on Friday night. Order a vegetable side dish and eat that before the main dish. Walk in the park on a Saturday morning. It wasn't long before Joanne stopped thinking about losing weight and focussed instead on being the caretaker of her body. She celebrated every successful week and corrected herself when she veered off track. Losing weight was no longer about shedding unwanted parts of herself but taking care of her future self, everyday. 

If you want to achieve something special on your next journey around the sun, then why not gift yourself a weekly activity chart instead of a list of goals. Now each daily activity becomes the goal. Then celebrate each small step that you achieve. Remember that today is the only thing you have control over, today is real, the future is a work in progress.

(1)  Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Research Date: 1.1.2014

Tremaine du Preez is the author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, executive coach and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Singapore. This blog series is from her upcoming book, Raising Thinkers - preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime. She also blogs at the Huffington Post

Do good grades guarantee success after school?

Tremaine du Preez

Or is it time to rethink our definition of smart?

According to the latest OECD results the smartest teenagers in the world belong to Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. All three cities ranked in the top 3 globally for math, science and reading in what is touted as a test of critical thinking. All three are confucian heritage societies with a long history (since the 10th century) of being grade-orientated. Back then anyone could become a government official by passing the Imperial Examinations with position and rank based on test scores alone. Later, through the Song Dynasty, achievement in formal tests was the only way to advance in a career outside of government too. This system of being able to clearly define and measure someone’s aptitude based on explicit metrics seemed to have stuck. In a country of 1.3 billion people with cities like Shanghai at 23 million strong, heaving under 9,700 inhabitants per square mile, perhaps this is not surprising at all. But do these consistently admirable test scores result in superb critical, creative and agile thinkers able to solve humanities most pressing problems or at least drive innovation forward? 

Comparing apples and apple seeds

To answer this let’s compare apple seeds to apples as we look at the current scientific contributions of a nation’s adults based on their H-Index (a ranking of the quality of scientific output) with the OECD (PISA) academic ranking for science from that country’s teenagers in brackets next to it. 

H-Ranking (PISA ranking)

1. USA (28th)                 6. Japan (4th)

2. UK (20th)                  7. Italy (32nd)

3. Germany (12th)          8. Netherlands (14th)

4. France (26th)             9. Switzerland (19th)

5. Canada (10th)            10. Sweden (38th)

It would seem that high scores in math and science aren’t necessarily correlated with an increase in scientific contributions from a nation’s adults. Yet math and science are exceptionally important as building blocks of knowledge. But only building blocks. In my experience as a lecturer in critical thinking, I’ve learnt that a school system that teaches children what to think at the expense of how to think is missing a golden opportunity to create a nation of ground breakers, scientists and entrepreneurs.  

When is a goldfish not dead?

This is a story from a parent of a child at a Singaporean school in primary 2 level (age 7 to 8 years). She retells the tale of her child’s attempt at answering a comprehension test question as follows;

Excerpt from a paragraph: “… and the cat ate the goldfish” 

Question: What happened to the goldfish?

Answer by pupil: The fish died. 

Surely a most natural conclusion to being eaten by a cat, written in a satisfactory full sentence. But this answer was marked as incorrect. The correct answer, she was told, was that the fish was eaten by the cat. Death was implied when in fact there was no proof of it. Thus there could only be one correct answer. This is an example of a false dilemma where we limit our answers based on our own limited view or knowledge. For progress to continue our children have to grow up to be smarter than their teachers. This creates a dilemma in education. How does a teacher evaluate thinking beyond the boundaries of a curriculum that they are trained in, or their own ability?  

When grades don't mean what they used to

Employers are rapidly looking beyond grades to hire the thinkers and managers of tomorrow. In a company that produces the purest most valuable data that money can buy, it’s no surprise that Google’s recruitment processes have benefitted from their lead in analytics. Lazlo Block, their SVP of people ops and principle architect of their interview process made headline’s recently when he revealed what most Googlers already know; that academic success at college or one’s GPA (grade point average) is the least important metric in their interview process, in fact, he went on to say that it is discounted in the final selection stage. Their 16 years worth of data on recruitment have revealed that there is no link between formal academic success or technical ability and potential to add real value to a company that transacts in new technology.  

So what are employers looking for then?

When Lazlo Block says they are looking for incredible curiosity, intellectual humility and resilience he isn’t saying so because it sounds all googley but because he knows this is what has brought them to where they are and will take them forward. Not only does Google know what skills will drive innovation and sales but they have designed a recruitment process to help them identify candidates who have these qualities - and aren’t evil, of course. Resilience is highlighted several times because someone who has known academic success most of their life has probably never gotten down and dirty with failure. Internally, Google fails a lot, that’s the nature of exploring unchartered territory. Without resilience, no new app or technology would be shuttled into the future. It’s not only tech companies that are looking for mental agility, capacity to learn and a healthy relationship with failure, many traditional companies are also looking for recruits with so much more to offer than good academics, especially demonstrable emotional and intercultural intelligence - an area of research I delve into in depth in my upcoming book Raising Thinkers

Given that employability today and tomorrow is less about math scores and more about adaptability, resilience, social, emotional and raw intelligence you might be wondering how, or if, your child is learning these skills? What steps is you child’s school taking to go beyond test scores to foster and measure skills crucial to employers today? How are you, dear parent, doing this and how is any of this communicated through reports and CV’s?  

I don’t know about you but my son’s school report is still all about maths and science measured on traditional metrics. This is still how schools rank and grade pupils because its far easier to do than set up a system to say, measure emotional intelligence or other intangibles. Unless we as parents change the definition of success academic children may not have the opportunity to develop those intangible talents that employers are after and children that aren’t considered academic may be considered underachievers despite their valuable talents, simply because these skills aren’t defined and measured. 

Next time we’ll start looking at each of these intangible talents and how to help foster them in your children, and perhaps even yourself. 

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.

Dentistry in Singapore: For your health or their wealth?

Tremaine du Preez

Toothache is a pain. Having a root canal and crown that costs $4000 in Singapore is heartache, especially since dental insurance here is too expensive to be worthwhile. I grind my teeth and have successfully cracked all 3 of my back teeth so it was no surprise then when the dentist took a quick look at my tooth with a UV light and declared that yet another tooth had fallen victim to my disregard for relaxation. I had ground it down and cracked it very badly. Yes, it was as painful as it sounds.

“Help me doctor, I’m in pain, how do I fix this?” 

“The same way we’ve fixed all the others – root canal and a gold crown. Let’s fix up an appointment to have this done soon because I’m on leave for three weeks next month.” He looked so sympathetic and understood how uncomfortable it all was for me, but there was no other way to stop the pain. I liked him, he had time for me, we laughed together. Yet, something about this visit bothered me. My dentist, at a very reputable and popular expat style clinic, spent very little time looking at my tooth and a lot of time explaining why I should have a root canal plus a crown. But what do I know about teeth? I’m not a dentist.


But I’m also not a fool.  Even though I’d been down this road before, I wanted to get a second opinion, just to be sure. The next dentist I saw was very reluctant to contradict a fellow practitioner. Although she couldn’t find any crack in my tooth, she strongly recommended a root canal to solve the pain and I was booked in for the very next day for emergency treatment. OK, so I needed a root canal and a crown but there’s no crack in the tooth, so why is it hurting? I asked this question directly and her answer was, “That just happens sometimes, the nerves get sensitive.” 

I was now in pain and fed up. 

Did I just accept what these two well trained and well respected professionals told me, did I just go along with their recommendations because they were dentists and should know more about my teeth than I do? After all, I did already have a second opinion from a separate clinic. The critical thinker in me could back off now.

But I wanted decent answers and so went off to a public dentist who had no financial incentive to sell me a treatment I didn’t need. He prodded and poked my tooth and the adjacent ones. I yelled in pain as he applied scalding then freezing cotton swabs and an electrical current through my tooth (I kid you not). No sitcom to watch on an overhead TV, no coffee in the waiting room, actually no waiting room to speak of … you get the picture. By this time I was wishing I hadn’t been so foolish to think I knew better and would have preferred the root canal there and then. Could this dentist even be as good as a private one? 

I was now in pain and fed up and doubting myself.

Finally a giant telescope on a floating arm appeared above me. He studied my pearly whites through his Carl Zeiss lenses. And what did he find? I lay trembling, fearing the third and final call for a $4000 treatment that would involve much pain, multiple doctor’s visits, and baby food for two weeks. 

“Mmm,” he finally said, “Well, I can’t find any cracks but it’s very clear that the filling currently in the tooth is old and leaking. It needs to be replaced.” 

“Root canal?” I squeaked?

“No need.” 


“No Need,” he confirmed as he whipped off the old amalgam filling and popped in a new one. 

The pain was gone by the time the anaesthetic had worn off. I was healed!


What did it cost? $89. 


Any doctor’s incentive is both to care for patients, make a living and avoid litigation whilst doing so. In a city as expensive as Singapore this balance can easily tip and financial gain can become the driving motives. Every one of us was taught from a young age to respect experts and listen to their advice, because they know better than we do. “The doctor said you have to take your medicine little Jake. So you have to take it.”

Of course, they do know more about their field of expertise but nothing stops us from questioning their frames and motives and to keep demanding answers until we get them. 

Now don’t let me start on the cardiologist in Singapore who sent me for a $2000 CAT scan that I absolutely didn’t need. I went, paid, got ripped off, felt like an idiot for being taken in – but I’m so much wiser for it.  

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.

Will your investment in your child’s private education eventually pay off? Here are some early warning signs that it may not.

Tremaine du Preez

Investment returns are not guaranteed and past performance… well you know the rest. Does the same apply to the average US$30 000 in after tax funds that a parent invests per annum per child in a private school education here in Asia or in the UK? Immediate returns are evident in school rankings and facilities, lessons paced above the national curriculum and dense IT resources. Then there’s that feeling of wonder when walking through a junior school where ponytail-bound 8 year olds are programming if-this-then-that sequences on lego robots or philosophy club tots wrangling with socratic enquiry after their fruit-only snack. Nothing like in your day, right? This must be a good investment in your child’s future? Surely?

Yes, but only if the school is achieving it’s objective. It’s worth asking what exactly that objective is? What is the return you want on your investment? Helping your child lead a happy life doesn’t need to cost this much but perhaps you are wanting more? Perhaps to prepare your child for a future of uncertainty and global challenges? This is a good start but what are those challenges? What skills will be most valuable over the next two decades and is your child’s school teaching with those skills in mind? Schools are awash with technology and ICT classes - my son has been designing powerpoint presentations, that wouldn’t look out of place at a PanAsian conference, since he was 6, but so have the other 191 children in his year group. The reality is that our children have a better than average chance of not being another Steve Jobs or Larry Page. This isn’t a comment on the budding intellect of our dimpled darlings but a reality check. Everybody is learning the same technology as they are and it is no longer an advantage. 

Being tech savvy is no longer a competitive advantage 

Where technology to implement corporate strategy doesn’t exist, the skills to create it are easily found in mid-level programmers.  The real challenge results from the product of all that technology: ‘We’re drowning in data. What we lack are true insights,’ a life sciences CMO in Switzerland commented. An energy and utilities CMO in the Netherlands put the problem even more bluntly: ‘At this moment, I don’t know how our marketing department will cope with the expected data explosion.’ These thoughts are from IBM’s annual C Suite research that analyses the trends that thousands of executives are grappling with in large corporations today, they seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. The real work will be done in generating insights from data, probing new perspectives and creating systems that deal with risk and interconnectivity. Yes, we need facts and data but the focus of education must shift from teaching our children what to think to how to think.

Does your school really deliver on teaching critical, creative and systems' thinking?

Our children need a more durable advantage – skills with a vast set of applications and the ability to source novelty or produce new ideas from old. You may already have guessed that this is not a skill taught in any one subject but rather in how a school approaches their pedagogy. Critical, creative and systems thinking are not skills that will develop organically unless a child is exposed to an environment that not only specifically builds this into the curriculum but understands that critical thinkers are harder to teach.

What do I mean by this? 

At a previous school my son’s teacher called me to explain to me that my son insisted on questioning her throughout the school day. His questions included: “Why do I have to do this? Why must I start here if I can start there and be finished quicker? Why should I learn 3 different ways of doing long division if I already understand the efficient method and can use that straight away?”

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

 “Well I can’t be explaining why a child has to learn something to 24 children, your son must just do as he is asked to do in class. He’s not impolite but his questions slow us down,” she hesitated, “they are disruptive.” 

I get it. There are 24 children and mine thinks he’s special. I walked away knowing that I was doing a good job in raising a thinker. But also didn’t expect him to run into problems with his incisive ability to question the status quo so soon, especially not in that school.

“Think critically about the subject matter but not about the teacher’s instructions.” Is the message I walked away with. At this rate, questing the status quo will be drilled out of him by the time he is ten, then they can get on with the important business of teaching facts and figures.

How will you know if your child’s school is delivering on their promise to help you raise a critical thinker?

Here are some questions you can ask your children. 

1. Are you ever encouraged to double check the facts and data given to you by your teachers? Or do you accept that everything that a teacher gives you is correct. 

2. Are you allowed to negotiate with the teacher if you already know the most efficient method of working something out?

3. Do you ever discuss how textbooks present information, especially in History, are you made aware of who wrote the textbook, and where their facts were obtained? 

4. Has your teacher ever said, “Well, I could be wrong,” or, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

I leave you with the wise words of Morgan Freeman, “Question everything.” And this includes the return that you are getting on your child’s private education.

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.

The 7 Habits of Good Decision Makers

Tremaine du Preez

If you are a professional of any kind from a banker to an HR executive, a COO or a dentist – you are continuously weighing up options and deciding on the best trade, payoff, treatment or even the best thing to say in a presentation or to a customer. You are a professional decision maker and I’m betting that your success depends largely on the quality of your decisions – both large and small. A good quality decision isn’t always the one with the best outcome. What’s far more important than hitting the bull’s eye every time is to foster a good decision process that ultimately results in incrementally better decisions and hence gains from those decisions over time. So what are the consistent habits or behaviours of professionals who make more good than bad decisions?

Decision Science

1. Be very clear on what is fact, judgement and opinion 

At a dinner party this week, a friend and well respected fund manager said quite boldly that everyone is selling China. Everybody? Selling? If everybody is selling than who is buying it? Stock markets only function effectively because of an asymmetry of beliefs – where someone wants to get rid of a position and someone wants to own that same position – so they trade. His statement could not possibly have been a fact or a judgement based on fact but an opinion formed around a trend or what this person had observed in his own limited sphere. It’s fine to believe in our own opinion (self deception is one of the oldest survival techniques and a fascinating topic of decision science) but let’s be very careful when making important decision using opinion as our raw data and not the facts that those opinions interpret. 

2. Understand the quality of your information

The internet is now our main font of knowledge; easy, convenient and omnipotent. Google is the McDonalds of information – serving up super-sized helpings of data that have been processed and flavoured by those that have gathered and interpreted this information. You choose the quality of the information that you consume in much the same way that you decide between McDonalds or Subway for lunch on a Tuesday. If you base your thinking, and hence decisions, on quick to access and widely available information (accepted without verification of its underlying data), then your decisions will disappoint on average. Quality information takes time and effort to gather just like a healthy, well balanced meal - there is no quick way around it. Test conclusions, verify interpretations and go to the source of data whenever you can. Actually, go to the data source always. You’ll be glad you did. 

3. Distrust how information is packaged and presented  

It was Socrates who first proposed that all information occurs within points of view and frames of reference and that all reasoning proceeds from some goal or objective. The poor man was executed for his outrageous thinking. Today this reasoning separates good decision makers from the rest. Without fail, every piece of information that is presented to you is done so through someone else’s frames and hence has been structured in a way that furthers their own cause. Always ask yourself what motivation the journalist, stock broker, surgeon, CEO or any other has when transmitting information. If you have sourced data yourself then beware, that data is filtered through your own mental frames as well.

4. Develop a habit of deciding how to decide first

Do you know what a metadecision is? No?  It is the simple act of deciding how you will decide before you jump in and make a decision. It begins by checking that you are, in fact, solving the right problem then asks you to decide how you will solve the problem with what tools, data and resources. It sounds like a mini project plan because it is. The metadecision forms the very first step in a good decision process because it anticipates challenges, ensures that you are using the best possible tools, ensures that your team members are all on the same page and actually speeds up the decision process. Einstein is said to have said that;  If I had only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solution. Even if it wasn’t the great man himself who said this, every great decision maker knows this. 

5. Control for the impact of emotions on your thinking 

Did you know that the hormones that make you feel sad also promote thinking and the hormones that make you feel so happy you could sing increase your appetite for risk in much the same way that red hot anger does. Emotions result from a cocktail of various hormones generated in response to information we receive (and interpret) through our own 5 senses. We can’t stop or remove the effect of emotions on our thinking but we can identify them and ensure that, when making important decisions, we control for the effects of our mental state – whether that be tiredness, frustration, disappointment, confidence after a successful deal or irritation at our boss. Everyone of these impact how we process and frame information. 

6. Tell convincing stories to understand risk

All decisions involve risk – the bigger the decision the larger the risk but also the reward for getting it right. Risk assessment and management tools are only as useful as the skills of those who program and use them. Housing bubbles from ill thought out economic policy, stock market crashes, bank runs and corporate failures are part and parcel of our complex and risky political, financial and business environment. The risks that cause these things are usually the ones that no-one paid attention to or could have foreseen when making the decision or setting policy. Whilst it’s very hard to know what you don’t know the ability to imagine alternative futures is becoming more important around the board room table. In trying to understand the risks to your project allow team members to create narratives of future scenarios from the most likely to the most implausible. To be communicated as stories with characters of fact or fiction. History has shown us that the most unlikely scenarios at the beginning are the ones that do the most damage at the end. 

7. Judge decisions by their process not their outcome 

This is the fundamental premise of decision science - that good decisions are never random inspirations hastened by a moment of genius or lucidity - a process is used (consciously or subconsciously) by anyone who makes consistently good decisions because no-one is consistently lucky. 

Do you have a decision making process that allows you to reflect on and refine your approach to problem solving? I won’t dictate a decision process as it’s as personal as your belief system but sound processes usually make space for 

- A metadecision

- An understanding of how information is framed

- Checking for motives, mental mistakes and biases in all stakeholders

- Counteracting the effect of strong emotions

- Thorough scenario analysis

Good decision making is a science of skill and knowledge the more you practice it, the luckier you’ll become.  

About the author: Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her latest book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your Child for the Journey of a Lifetime will be out soon.

How to give your child the gift of success

Tremaine du Preez


By the law of large numbers, most children will grow up to be average in height, weight, intelligence and in their life achievements. Wonderfully, blissfully, unassumingly average. No matter which way we look at it, our children have a better chance of being average than exceptional. To date, no parent has suggested to me that they would love for their kids to be average. Happy? Yes. Average? No. Would being average live up to the expectations that are heaped upon our children today? Average children can be very happy but not if being average is seen as being a failure. This is a reality in many asian families where teen suicide rates are consistently the highest in the world. 

I am guilty of wanting my son to do the best he can in school, too. With occasional tears and more homework than play during the week – we still barely keep up with the demands of school. But something happened over the summer that got me thinking about what I really wanted for my son.

Lessons from the bird man 

We spent a morning with a falconer along the Garden Route in South Africa. A mesmerising man who rehabilitates birds of prey that have been hurt or fallen on hard times, so to speak. These birds are his all consuming passion and love of his life. A life that is entirely funded by donations from the public. Is he doing a worthwhile job? Yes. Is he happy? Absolutely. But would I like my son to grow up doing something he loves that is entirely reliant on fickle handouts from tourists over a few summer months? To be honest; no. He’d be happy but he’d be poor. I’d worry too much. If not happiness, then what do I really want for him? 

The gift of making good decisions

My husband and I decided some time ago to dispense with the just let little Johnny be happy and find his own passion rhetoric because, honestly, we didn’t know how to help him do this, apart from letting him try his hand at everything – until something resonated with him or we ran out of money, time, patience or all three. We decided instead that we wanted our child to be a good thinker. 

Bonaparte knew what he was talking about when he said, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” We wanted our son to be the best decision maker he could be and nothing more. 

We knew that the decisions we had made in the past had created our current reality, and the decisions that we make today create our future. His life would also be guided and determined by the choices he made along the way. Not his final algebra score, but what he chose to do with it. Would that make him happy? We hoped that being able to make good decisions about how to spend his time, what to study, what to read, what not to eat or drink and how to respond to challenging situations in the playground, the campus or the office would make his life a little easier, a little more successful and maybe, a little happier. The rest would be up to him. 

How were we going to do this? Surely his school would teach him this? We soon found out that, even though school subjects were now considerably cooler and more relevant than in our day, teaching students what to think is still their primary goal. Facts and data are easier to teach and test for. Are school teachers even familiar with decision science and critical thinking? Should they be? But were we in a position to teach him how to make good decisions ourselves? We’d racked up a fair amount of lousy decisions between us in the past. 

Lecturing our son in the art of decision science would likely backfire before he hit puberty. But we could learn as much as possible about making good decisions, thinking about thinking and processing information soundly. Then, and only then, could we coach him. In fact, this is how I came to do what I do as a coach and lecturer in critical thinking. I realised that I couldn’t raise a critical thinker if I wasn’t one myself. 

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her latest book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your Child for the Journey of a Lifetime will be out soon.

Are you the parent you want to be?

Tremaine du Preez

Mentor, lecturer or coach?  

Executive coaching is solving some of the toughest corporate people challenges, can it do the same for parenting?

Parent Coaching.JPG

Are you an enabler; someone who helps others shine? Or a mentor; someone who gives great advice when asked? Or maybe a lecturer who tells colleagues how to doing things. Do you hog the limelight or step aside for your team at the awards dinner? Whatever you are, I’m betting it reflects your parenting style too. Of course, you probably love your kids more than you love your co-workers and your motives to succeed at work and at parenting will vary. But how you get things done and get big and little people to do things for you, is just that, your way.  Go on, join the dots, you’ll see what I mean.

Are you expected to coach your colleagues? 

Almost everywhere I work team leaders are expected to make the shift from lecturer to coach, or at the very least, to mentor subordinates. Companies are training leaders as coaches because it’s proving to be a lucrative strategy. It works, engages staff and helps them solve their own problems, faster. What if we could parent like coaches? Would we get the same results? 

Isn’t parenting coaching anyway?

No. A leader, executive coach or a sports coach will train in the art of coaching. Just as a teacher must learn how to teach effectively because being a subject matter expert doesn’t guarantee that you can impart knowledge. A good coach will get you thinking in new and interesting ways about your behaviour, your thinking and your potential. You won’t learn anything from an executive coach but will have to answer uncomfortable, probing questions and face some hard truths. Coaching will teach you more about yourself than you knew before.  

As a parent you can decide to act as a lecturer, a mentor or a coach. There will be plenty of lecturers in your child’s life, lots of mentors too but there will be very few true coaches. Of course, at times your knowledge is invaluable and mentoring is the right thing to do. But mentoring does not need to define the relationship you have with your child. It can be a beautiful fluid mix between supporting your child as a coach and leading them as a mentor.

Verbal bullying and putting parent coaching to the test

How do we coach a child? My son is physically small when compared to most boys his age. He’s not particularly sporty or physical on the playground either. So when he wants to join in the rougher games he sometimes gets pushed around. Bullying is not tolerated at his school so it takes different forms that are far more subtle than a shove or a punch. Verbal bullying, exclusion from games and other pursuits of emotional cruelty are dished out by children who don’t yet understand the impact of their behaviour. From about 6 years old, there would be days when my son came home in tears. Crying about the hurtful things some boys (and sometimes girls) had said to him. 

I couldn’t complain to the teacher every time a nasty name was flung at him. I also had no doubt that he was doing some name calling himself. Reacting to this and trying to solve it for him every single time was not going to help him. I also couldn’t mentor him because I had no experience with this. But I did know that I needed to build up my little boy’s internal resilience. Lecturing him not to react to the name calling was silly. What he needed was a system for dealing with this. Both during and afterwards. A way of making him feel OK about it that also didn’t deplete his ego. So the coach in me got to work.

A coaching conversation 

As he sat on the rocking chair in my study on a day that he was in a reasonable mood, I brought up the last incident of verbal bullying on the school bus. No lecturing, no mentoring just questioning to helping him find his own solution.

Me:   How did you feel about what the boy said to you? 

Him: Very angry.

Me:   So he called you a baby (insert any other here)? Is it true, are you a baby? 

Him:  No.

Me:   Why did it make you angry then, if you know it’s not true? 

Him:  Because everyone else heard him say it.

Me:   Could you have stopped him from saying it?

Him:  No.

Me:   Do you think you reacted in the right way?

(He had sworn at the kid and got into trouble too.)

Him:  No, but I didn’t know what else to say. I was so cross.

Me:   What would you have liked to do differently?

Him: To say something that makes me sound cool instead. And that won’t get me into trouble.

Me:  OK, would you like to have something that you can say again and again that sounds really cool?

Him: Yes. Oh yes. What can I say?

Me:   Well, you tell me! What can you say every time someone calls you a name? A few words that sound smart and don’t get you into trouble?

I asked him to go away and think about what he can say next time he is in this position. He wanted to come up with something that sounds calm but will also let the ‘bully’ know that he can’t hurt him with words. So he came up with a brilliant suggestion that he still uses today. He says: “You may think that I’m a …(nerd/baby) etc., but that doesn’t make me one.” And if he’s really angry or doesn’t have time to think or centre himself, he simply takes a deep breath and says; “Well, it’s a good thing that I don’t care what you think about me.” It takes real courage for a small boy to say this to anyone who is overpowering them with words. So we practiced this, out loud, several times at home.  Now he can say it without thinking about it. When he feels himself getting angry, this phrase comes to mind. 

As he gets older our tactics will have to evolve to meet more mature challenges. But he knows I will always look to him to think about how he wants to handle situations, before I mentor him in how I would do it. I’m proud to be a parent coach. I coach my little boy with the exact same skills that I use with CEO’s of multinational companies wrestling with multimillion dollar problems. It works. Mostly because my son is learning that through our dialogue, he can think of ways to solve his own problems. Soon he’ll be able to self coach on the simpler issues. He is already encouraging his friends to stop and think before they get angry!

Next week: Dealing with difficult school reports the critical thinking way.

Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers.


Note on coaching vs mentoring

A mentor is someone who knows more about what you do than you do. Someone with experience in your job. A good mentor is invaluable when one needs advice, opinions or insights into specific subjects. A coach generally knows very little about what you do and should not be in a position to tell you what to do or give you advice but rather guide you to discover your own strategy. 




Raising Thinkers: Emotional Intelligence starts with Toddler Tantrums and You

Tremaine du Preez

Science shows us how to teach our children out of their tantrums with long lasting effects.

At 3 and 33 we experience exactly the same emotions. Except, by 33 we’ve learnt how not to react to them like we did at 3. Some people seem to cope better with strong emotions than others. Those people had better teachers and better lessons in emotional intelligence from a younger age. 

When I work with executives to help them make better decisions and think more critically about information, at least a third of the time is spent on the role of emotions in decision making. Yup, ONE THIRD of our time is spent understanding the hormones (particularly stress hormones) and the emotions they generate.

What has any of this got to do with your tiny toddler’s tantrums?  Absolutely everything. 

Our toddler’s stress hormones first become visible to us when they are around 18 months to 2 years old. Exactly when the dreaded tantrums start.  They’re hard to miss with the biting, kicking and screaming about not being allowed a chocolate milk before dinner. It feels like the end of the world to them but it really is the beginning of a very important phase of their life. How they learn to deal with stress now sets the foundation for their ability to deal with what life throws at them later on.

Blame their tools

Your child’s tantrums results from an underdeveloped brain and an overflow of stress hormones. Something (brother snatches their toy, mommy says no to them, confusion, hunger,  etc.) sparks a rush of these stress hormones through their little system. Our body produces the same hormones when we are thrown into stressful situations but our brain has developed coping mechanisms to manage our response. Thank goodness. So we don’t fling ourselves across the boardroom table yelling at our boss that we hate her as tears flood our contorted face, we only daydream about it.   

The part of our brain to thank is our prefrontal cortex. It helps us predict/imagine the consequences of our responses and use logic to figure out how to get what we want instead. But it only begins to develop at around 4 years old and matures fully between 21 and 25 years old (sooner for women than men). The tantrum is not a calculated move to embarrass you or make you feel like a rotten parent. Your child is not physically capable of being spiteful or devious, just yet.  Fortunately, the average tantrum peaks after about 1 minute and is usually done by 3 minutes, although it feels much longer. 

Science to the rescue

Imagine you are in a raging mood about some injustice. Perhaps someone stole the parking space that you waited 15 minutes for? Then the thief turns around and shouts at you to calm down. Does this help? Hell no, it just further provokes you, does’t it? Now imagine feeling this way without having the ability to think through the results of your actions? Even calmly asking questions of your tantrumming toddler can enrage them further. Their body has to stop producing stress hormones in order for their anger to subside. They are not in a position to calm themselves down on cue, like you and I. Which is why is seems like they don’t want to be calmed down at all.

How you help your toddler deal with this natural phase of their childhood will create their first memories of stress and hence the neural pathways of how to cope with it in their developing prefrontal cortex. Every tantrum is a learning experience. Really. Firstly for you to gather data on your child’s tantrum triggers; time of day, level of stimulation, hunger, tiredness etc. Secondly, to try various techniques to help your toddler shorten their tantrums to just a few seconds and then develop alternative coping mechanisms. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

1. Distract and disarm

To stop production of a flight of flight (stress) hormone the source of the provocation needs to be removed. This does not mean that you give in to your child’s demands. You are still the parent responsible for behaviour boundaries. Rewarding a tantrum causes more behavioural issues than the tantrum itself. No, try distracting your toddler with an interesting object that you keep for just such occasions. It can be anything really, even their favourite song (I’m thinking the Frozen theme song) played on your phone. Remove them from the place that sparked the tantrum, like the candy isle or playgroup. Better still, avoid candy and toy isles all together. 

2. Don’t engage them on their terms

Sit calmly with them and let them know that you are there and ready to talk to them or give them a big hug but only when they are calm enough. Reasoning doesn’t work yet, that will start at about 5 years old, around the time when tantrums disappear. 

Tantrums tend to start with explosive anger that then gives way to the accompanying feelings of sadness. A sad child will reach out for comfort and then forget that anything happened at all. Try shortening the anger peak with a consequence that your child understands. “We can’t go to the park until you are calm again,” or, “I’m counting to 5, if you aren’t calm by then we are going home and they’ll be no TV today.” Say it once and then disengage. 

3. Tantrum training 

Tantrums in supermarkets or in the car can still seem manageable but what about that long haul flight? When everyone else is trying to sleep as you pace the isle with a wailing toddler trying to escape from your arms? You’ll know pretty early if your child is prone to tantrums. If so, let them happen in all the safe places where time-out is an option. Every time the anger begins, get out your notepad and make notes. What were the triggers? What did your toddler want? What calmed him down, how long did the episode last? After 3 or 4 tantrums, you’ll be an expert and will have found useful information about what turns this behaviour on and off. And importantly, this scientific exploration of your child’s seemingly illogical behaviour will stop you from generating stress hormones and getting angry, too.

Gina Mireault, Ph.D, reminds us that “Kids this age think magically, not logically. Events that are ordinary to us are confusing and scary to them. Confusion about the world is a great cause of anxiety to our toddlers.” Anxiety can easily provoke your little angel into a big tantrum for which there seems no logical explanation.

One question remains though. Will any of these work on your boss who seems to control his temper only slightly better than your tiny toddler? If only her parents had tried to tame her tantrums 30 years ago.


Are Temper Tantrums a Fight/Flight Response?  Psychology Today, Dec 2012, by Joshua Gowin, Ph.D. in You, Illuminated

The Science of Parenting: How today's brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children by Margot Sunderland.