There is a fundamental difference between perseverance and compulsion. Perseverance is Blue Brain. It is fueled by interest and desire. We choose to keep going, despite the difficulties and setbacks.
Compulsion is Red Brain: behaviour driven by a sub-cortical “expectation of reward.” A “reward” in this sense is not something that one earns by one’s efforts but rather, something that causes us to keep going. We do not choose to keep going; we are compelled to do so.
Perseverance can quickly turn into compulsion if we resort to fear or anger to override a child’s limbic brakes. Fight-or-flight provides the burst of energy needed, while at the same time muting the PFC systems that subserve self-awareness.
The danger here is not only that the parasympathetic nervous system is strained and recovery is compromised, but that the child will come to have strong negative associations with the activity in question. The point, however, is not that parents are confronted with a difficult decision in regards to their child’s future: viz., success-at-a-cost versus failure-at-a-different-cost. Self-Reg presents us with a very different dichotomy: viz., between compulsion and flow.
Where compulsion is Red Brain, flow is Blue Brain. Where compulsion is exhausting, flow is energizing. The former is dogged, the latter creative. The former leaves you shattered and disillusioned, the latter, calm and inspired. One does not strive for flow in order to obtain a reward; flow is its own reward. And there is a flow to flow itself, which is where Self-Reg comes in.
The better we can help children identify their stressors and manage their energy and tension, the better they can experience flow. Constantly pushing kids to override their limbic brakes – because of an antiquated and misguided assumption that this builds character – is the surest way there is to prevent them from realizing flow in whatever captures their interest and imagination.