“I’M STILL LEARNING.” ~MICHELANGELO
What we have accepted from the outside world, or fed to ourselves has initiated a natural cause-and-effect chain reaction sequence that leads us either to successful self-management, or to the unsuccessful mismanagement of ourselves, our resources, and our future.
~Shad Helmstetter, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, p. 52
What a scary, sad, and interesting time this is! The disruptions to so many aspects of our daily lives and the news that things will likely get worse nudge us to take stock of what’s important, our place in the world, and who we want to be.
I just finished Shad Helmstetter’s What to Say When You Talk to Your Self: Powerful New Techniques to Program Your Potential for Success. I read this book because of my interest in helping children and teachers learn to see themselves as mathematically capable. Unexpectedly, I found the book to be highly relevant to our current upside-down reality.
Helmstetter makes a convincing argument that our mindsets, which he calls programming, drives our thoughts and actions. These thoughts and actions, in turn, impact our resourcefulness and success in dealing with challenges. According the Helmstetter, here’s how our brain works:
The key to maximizing positive results, Helmstetter says, is to take control of Step 1, our programming. We do this through intentional self-talk which Helmstetter defines as “specific statements of self-direction designed to wire new neural pathways into the brain” (p. 64).
According to research, we talk to ourselves all the time but are typically aware of less than 10% of our self-talk. This self-talk takes the form of unspoken words, thoughts, sensations, and emotions (Helmstetter, p. 113). Our self-talk triggers electrical impulses in the brain that spark decision-making and direct our overt words and deeds. We can take command of our self-talk and the results of our self-talk when we learn to:
- Monitor our self-talk. We become more adept at recognizing our self-talk through conscious attention and practice.
- Edit our self-talk. Once we become aware that we have given ourselves a negative self-talk message, we should instantly replace it with a positive message.
- Listen again and again to our self-chosen self-talk message. The key here is repetition. We harness the power of self-talk when we immerse ourselves in a new life script. We can do this by writing our self-talk and posting it where we’ll read it regularly. Or we can record our new script using a computer or phone and listen to this recording at a consistent time each day; perhaps as a start-of-the-day routine. (p. 112)
So, how can self-talk benefit us right now as we face the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic?
When we experience anxiety and fear, the hormone cortisol is be released in our brains, triggering a chemical reaction known as amygdala hijack. This physiological response inhibits our ability to think and act rationally. It also sets off a cycle of negativity which can be difficult to break.
Self-talk can be an effective tool for calming our amygdala and activating a positive outlook when we find ourselves faced with stressful situations. Positive emotions maximize our resourcefulness and sense of well-being. Additionally, we have research evidence that a positive mind frame contributes to our physical health and boosts our immune system (Fredrickson, p. 93-94; Seligman, p. 206-207). Positivity sets in motion a self-perpetuating cycle which can help us to be at our best during upcoming weeks.
Here’s my pandemic self-talk script. I continue to add to and refine this script as I navigate our evolving reality and my own internal response to this reality.
- I am a healthy person with a strong immune system. I take responsible precautions for my own health, the health of loved ones, and members of my community.
- I recognize that there are some things I control and other things I don’t control. I will take maximum advantage of the things I control in every situation I encounter. Because I know the benefits of positivity, I choose to focus on life’s possibilities and potentials rather than its problems.
- When I hear news and statistics that are disturbing, I process this information logically and then I direct my time and energy to mental and physical activities that bring me joy and benefit others.
- I choose to spend each day experiencing as much joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, awe, inspiration, and love (Fredrickson, 2009) as possible. When worry or negatively creep into my mind, I consciously sweep these negative emotions away and replace them with thoughts and memories that activate positive emotions. I do this not only for my emotional well-being but also so I can remain resourceful, my best self.
- I know that every day I am blessed with three vital resources: time, energy, and the ability to choose what and how I think. I choose to use these resources wisely and responsibly, in ways that benefit me and others.
- I continually look for ways of supporting others and lifting them emotionally because this is what it means to be human and because we are all stronger together.
I came across this quote in a recent Brené Brown blog post:
This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.
I want to be awkward, brave, and kind each day, for myself and others. Self-talk seems to be a promising tool for realizing this goal and doing my best to live in congruence with the person I want to be.
Fredrickson, B. L., (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York: Three River Press.
Helmstetter, S. (2017). What to say when you talk to your self. New York: Gallery Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Atria.
Learning from Suzanne
A new grandmother’s reflections on learning
A Letter to Suzanne
April 1, 2020
It’s been almost three weeks since Grandpa and I have seen you. It breaks my heart not to be able to pick you up, especially when we see you holding your arms out to us during our nightly Skype calls with you and your mother. This is a sad season for so many people and we expect it will become more difficult before it gets better. You won’t remember most of the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m glad, but you will no doubt be shaped by this experience. Here are some values that I hope will grow in you as a result of living through this moment in time:
- The love of your family – We’re finding creative ways of staying connected. We do this because we want you to know that you are and always will be loved beyond measure.
- The innate goodness of people – This segment in time gives each of us the chance to reveal our best selves, to find new ways of helping others, to be caretakers of your future and our legacy. May we all step up the plate and prove ourselves worthy of this challenge.
- The importance of learning – You have new family routines. Your mama and baba are finding innovative ways to serve their communities through their work, to take care of themselves, and to always create conditions for you to thrive. All of this requires learning and flexibility and resilience. These are essential life skills and I’m grateful that your parents actively demonstrate these abilities for you and encourage you to grow these abilities in yourself.
Finally, Suzanne, although we’re all being stretched at this moment, I want you to know how incredibly blessed we are. Our basic needs are met. Instead of daily runs to the grocery store, we now pre-order groceries each week and pick them up at the store entrance without leaving Grandpa’s truck. Each day we have a wealth of interesting things to do inside our cozy home. Grandpa tends to the garden and I am learning how to teach my university class online. And, most importantly, we are endlessly grateful for you. You fill our every day with joy and awe and love!
Resources worth checking out
We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be
By Cornelius Minor
What a book! In the introduction, @MisterMinor tells us that his work as a teacher has been driven by the quest to “bridge the enormous gulf between the promises of education and the actual lived experiences of so many of my students.” He calls this book “a manual for how to begin that brilliantly messy work” (p. xvi). And he delivers on this promise.
This manual for “doing equity” rather than just talking about it offers a wealth of templates for teacher investigations related to equity. These templates include self-coaching questions to help teachers make sense of their contexts with an equity lens and then guide responsible decision making based on what they learn.
Cornelius has the heart of a coach. He knows that change involves learning. He tells us that equity-based instructional practice begins with a teacher’s strategic attention to how her teaching actions and classroom culture deny or create opportunities for students. He offers practical advice for how to support change at the school level, including sentence frames teachers can use in talking to colleagues about equity practices.
Cornelius reminds us of important truths about our work as educators:
- Our work is important:
To love children is to love their futures. (p. 73)
- Achieving equity in schools is everyone’s responsibility:
If we are not doing equity, then we are not doing education. (p. xi)
- We are powerful:
We do more than hope. We make miracles six periods a day. (p. x)
- Our power arises from our passion for students and our own willingness to be learners:
As it is now, so much of contemporary teaching is waiting for someone to tell us what to do. It does not have to be that way. We can create a thing, try it, reflect on it, and change it. This ability to read a room of children, create a thing for them, recognize when the thing isn’t working for the children, and alter or change the thing completely is the most underdeveloped set of teacher skills We cannot purchase our way into this. This requires time and study and practice. This is listening to what kids need. This is assessment. This is data analysis. This is you. (p. 120)
Minor, C. (2019). We got this: Equity, access and the quest to be who our students need us to be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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