This weekend I decided to do some work with my Daughter, who has been continually telling me how stressed she has been feeling about school work, in particularly about a French oral assessment today.
I explained to her that when we are feeling ‘stressed’, it’s because we have in some way been telling ourselves that we “can’t cope” with whatever the challenge we have at hand. We can almost glorify these words like we are in some special privileged state or that by saying this someone will somehow rescue us and make us feel better.
In reality telling ourselves we are stressed actually makes us feel more stressed: it exacerbates the problem and limits our ability to cope and address the challenge. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We get stuck like a deer in the headlights; hijacked by our emotions. There is a direct link between what we say, how we feel and what we do.
What you say to yourself (your thoughts) effects how you feel (your emotions) and what you feel impacts what you do (your behaviour). So if you want to do well at something to achieve something it’s important that you are aware of your thoughts and change them if they create uncomfortable/unwanted feelings.
The first indication that your thinking is unhelpful may be that you are experiencing some extreme emotion e.g. anxiety, fear, stress, sadness, anger. When you feel that emotion, stop for a minute and ask yourself: What have I been saying to myself that has led to these feelings. The thoughts will usually come to you. Then you can challenge them.
- Ask yourself what you would say to someone else who was saying these things.
- Look for alternative ways of looking at the problem: find another point of view (ask someone for their opinion if you can’t do this yourself.
- Tell yourself you can cope and identify what you need to do to cope. Find examples of how you have coped with similar situations.
- Think about the resources you have that will help you in this situation (including practical help or support from others)
- Ask yourself if what you are saying is actually true – where is the evidence that supports/doesn’t support what you have been saying. For example is it true that I’m a complete failure – where are there examples where I am succeeding.
This will allow you to move away from those unhelpful those and find thoughts that are more realistic, true, appropriate and helpful. Which will, in turn lead, to more balanced emotions and help you to behave in ways that are helpful as opposed to destructive.
Sometimes we just need a little help to manage our thoughts and this helps us to feel so much better: we just need to know how to think.
A couple of weeks ago I was working with a lady who had been telling herself repeatedly that she couldn’t do a presentation, that she would forget her words, stumble and that it would all go horribly wrong. Not surprisingly, she had worked herself up into a state where should couldn’t think straight and was panicking.
The light bulb moment for her, was realising that all she had to do was tell herself, she could do it, she had done many presentations before and very well, that she was good at her job and knew her stuff etc. “ Do you mean all I need to do is tell myself something different: it’s that simple? She asked me. “Yes” I said “its as simple as that”. So she did: she challenged and changed her thoughts right there in the session.
By the end of the session she was catching herself saying the unhelpful things and changing them and left feeling so much better.
On Friday I received an email from her telling me how well her presentation had gone and how much difference she had noticed in her both her personal and professional life from just thinking differently.
We can at times be careless about our thoughts, not recognising the impact they have. We can get stuck with unhelpful ways of thinking. When we are aware, when we recognise that ‘it’s the thought that counts’, and do something with that awareness, it can be the difference that makes all the difference.
At 14 it’s rare that my Daughter listens to much of what I say (after all she knows it all and I know nothing). However, she went off to school this morning feeling confident and happy about her French oral assessment. She is absolutely word perfect, and knows she will do brilliantly. She knows she has all the knowledge and all the resources she needs to do well; she always does do well and she is going to do well. And now she knows that her Mumma does know a thing or two after all!
Just a little bit of brain training…..