Listening for language


"I can't do this"

A very exciting concept is a simple one that guides my work with kids and adults.

It is: S +T = R .

The S is situation and the easiest thing to say about this is that "Situations Happen". They happen every day, good and bad and like death and taxes they are unavoidable. The T is thinking and when you come to think about it, thinking comes really easily too. According to a study by the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California, the average person has 48.6 thoughts per minute and 70000 per day. That's a lot of thinking.

The last bit of the equation is R for reaction, how you respond and what you do as a result. A simple illustration is when you are faced with a new challenge and it stretches you. Your first thought may be "I can't do this..." or "What if I make a mistake?" Nuero science tells us that if you stick with these thoughts your reaction will be to withdraw or find yourself not being able to do the task. And in the simplest terms that is because your mind tells your body what to do. S (New challenge) + T ("I can't do this) = R (withdraw, nervous, proceed with little confidence)

The way I like to think about thinking, (no pun intended) is it can be "unhelpful" or "helpful."What I love about this is equation is that if we choose to think "helpfully" it will determine how we react to situations. Now at this point, I want to stress that we are not talking about what I call "Positive Pollyanna" thinking e.g .we face a new challenge and we scream "I CAN DO THIS!!!!!." While positive thinking can make us feel like our own personal cheerleader, there may be some very good reasons why we are challenged. By adopting a more "helpful" way of thinking that is realistic and accepting of our emotions we can be a more effective personal cheerleader. Acknowledging your fears, nerves and feelings of being out of your comfort zone and accepting them as normal can assist you think and react more helpfully.

I CAN DO THIS!!!! becomes "This is really challenging but I am going to have a go."

In my art classes I challenge kids to have a go when I give them tricky art challenges. My first step is to "listen for the language" when they either say "I can't do this" or give up after a feeble first attempt. I then encourage them to think of a new way to think about their thoughts and be more "fair" on themselves. Often I ask them "What would your best friend say to you about your artwork?" Then I challenge them to think of a more helpful thought.You may do this instinctively already, if so keep going. If not, try these steps:

Step 1: Listen for language or ask your child what they are thinking.

Step 2: Challenge them to think a more helpful way: "Does it have to be perfect?" "What will happen if you make a mistake?" or "Do you think your teacher is expecting you to get it right the first time?" Step 3: Ask your child to tell you how they can think about their challenge in a more helpful way. This is a five minute conversation and you will find that when you are listening for language the opportunity to have it will come up often. I would love to know if you do, so drop me a line to share your experience or ask questions.

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