I was reminded of the power of positive self-talk recently with my son. One morning I was getting ready for work and he came into the bathroom and said “Mom can you come write down I can do it, I can hike dinosaur ridge in a thought bubble for my picture.” I was taken by surprise and said “What?” He quickly pulled me into his room to show me a picture on his white board of 4 people, one (him), with a thought bubble above its head. I wrote what he asked and learned he was preparing for our friends visit who has a son his age who loves to hike. My son does not love hiking, he is quick to say his legs are tired, and he much prefer to run around with a soccer ball or lacrosse stick. However, he knew my friend, her son, and I love to hike so he was preparing himself to do the hike I mentioned we take them on days before their visit. The picture and positive self-talk remained on his white board as a encouraging reminder for the visit and hike coming at the end of the week. I’m proud to report he conquered that hike and had a great time doing it! My son practiced positive self talk and he visualized himself doing something andenjoying it days before he did it.
Using our Whole Brain by Understanding Upstairs/Downstairs Brain
The practice of positive self-talk is the skill of using our whole brain and is something regardless of age we can all benefit from. Maybe you find yourself using negative self talk while preparing for; a presentation at work, a difficult conversation with a family member or colleague, or a challenging event ahead like my son and his hike. It is quite common to spend a lot of time rehashing and rehearsing with our anxious brain downstairs brain “What if I mess up; Remember that time I froze when giving a presentation; I can’t do it, it was miserable last time; There is no way that person will listen and understand me, they are going to think I’m overreacting”. The skill and practice is calming our protective anxious downstairs brain and changing the channel of our thoughts to the more realistic or reasonable thinking upstairs brain. “I may mess up, but it will be okay; I remember that time I nailed a presentation; It was tough last time, but I’m more prepared this time; I don’t know if that person will understand unless I try, I’m not overreacting, this is important.”
One way I teach positive self-talk to kids is through yoga calm and practicing the principles of:
· Stillness – Calming the downstairs brain to use our thinking brain with breathing and guided relaxations.
· Grounding – Calming our downstairs brain to stay in the present by practicing challenging physical balance poses such as tree pose.
· Listening – Tuning into our mind and its self-talk and changing the channel to positive through mindfulness exercises.
· Strength – Mental strength (Brain Power) is using healthy self-talk and we do this by bringing positive self-talk to the challenging yoga poses; I am strong, I am in control, I can do it, I can be responsible.
With adults I love to teach the mindfulness skill of Wise Mind and Distress Tolerance Skill of Effective Rethinking and Paired Relaxation:
Wise Mind Exercises:
1. Focus on Your Breath
2. Drop Into the Pauses—As you engage in mindful breathing, allowing yourself to notice the “pause” after each inhalation and each exhalation. This pause is much like the still space that exists when leaping between trapeze bars. Notice the stillness within each pause. Allow yourself to find awareness in the pauses at the top and bottom of each breath. Settle into each pause and find stillness within.
3. Breathe “Wise” In, Breathe “Mind” Out—This exercise is particularly helpful if you feel stuck in emotion mind and are feeling overwhelmed. In these moments, it may be difficult to focus your attention on a longer visualization exercise. At times like this, simply notice that you are feeling intense emotions and begin to direct your focus toward your breath. As you pull the air into your lungs, say the word “wise” in your mind. As the air leaves your lungs, say the word “mind” to yourself. The idea is to focus your attention entirely on these words as you breathe in and out to begin to settle yourself back into a place of calmness and wisdom.
Effective Rethinking and Paired Relaxation (DBT Skill from Marsha M. Linehan):
Step 1: Write down the prompting event that is often related to distressing emotions and that you want to work on reducing your emotional reaction to.
Step 2: Ask: “What must I be telling myself (that is, what are my interpretations and thoughts) about the event that causes such distress and arousal?” Write these down. Examples:
“He hates me”, “I can’t stand this.”, “I can’t do this!”, “I’ll never make it.”, “I’m out of control.”
Step 3: Rethink the situation and its meaning in a way that counteracts the thoughts and interpretations producing stress and distressing emotions. As you rethink the situation, write down as many effective thoughts as you can to replace the stressful thoughts.
Step 4: When you are not in the stressful prompting event, practice imagining the stressful event:
a. At the same time, while breathing in, say to yourself an effective self-statement.
b. When breathing out, say “Relax” while intentionally relaxing all your muscles.
Step 5: Keep practicing every chance you get until you have mastered the strategy.
Step 6: When a stressful situation occurs, practice effective rethinking and paired relaxation.
Positive Self-Talk and Visualization are two practices to help you find the strength and courage to be brave and face the things that scare and challenge you!
“It’s not what we say out loud that really determines our lives. It’s what we whisper to ourselves that has the most power.” – unknown
“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” – Buddha