'I felt great until I walked into the classroom - then it all went wrong!'
No, this wasn't a teacher talking! It was a high school student on the day of an important exam. She needed a good grade in a particular subject to qualify for a place at college, so she had worked hard and psyched herself up for success.
But she soon forgot herself. Once inside the classroom where everyone was waiting before going to the exam hall, she made the mistake of letting the others affect her.
She told me the atmosphere in the room was charged with negativity. People were sitting around with gloomy faces, some were wringing their hands and pacing up and down. Others were muttering such comments as: 'I'm going to fail, I just know it!' 'This is going to be SO hard!' 'Mr Brown said we've nobody to blame but ourselves.' 'Yeah, it's been an easy paper the last two years. They're bound to toughen up this year.'
So it went on. And the girl in question allowed herself to be sucked under. She reported a feeling of nausea as the confidence drained from her.
Luckily she managed a pass, but everyone - and no one more than the student herself - was disappointed that she never achieved the expected high grade.
But the girl turned the experience into a learning situation. She became aware that: * If your language is predominantly negative, you won't achieve your goals * You must guard against the negativity of others - for if you don't, they can easily 'infect' you too!
What we experience in any given situation is to a large extent decided by our attitude to it. (That is, what we actually feel at the time.)
The attitude we have works on our thoughts, which in turn affect our speech, then our speech further conditions our thoughts!
And, as we've seen, other people's language can have an effect on us - if we let it! A common scenario for parents and teachers here in the UK is to hear students say 'I'm stuck!' when doing class or home study. All that's happening is that the student has come up against a challenge and hasn't yet found a solution.
Fair enough, ask the teacher for help, that's what they're there for. Many a parent has given their kids that advice.
But what's the effect of saying 'I'm stuck'?
How does the brain react to such language?
In my teaching I have monitored this many times, all with similar results. When I hear a student claim to be 'stuck', I usually say 'I'll see you in a few minutes', then I let them get on with it.
Other kids will say 'Can you help me, please?' and I'll give them the same reply.
Now, without fail, the students who were 'stuck' sit and vegetate until the teacher comes over. After all, they've given their brains a message: 'Down tools! There's nothing more we can do right now.'
The kids who say they need help, however, are always to be found pondering over their work, trying to work out a solution.
That's the effect language has on us!
Perhaps I should add at this point that I only hear 'I'm stuck!' in new classes. My students soon learn that they are not trees, so they can't be stuck!
This is not a case of glossing over reality. There are infinite ways of interpreting reality, and our language can make our experience difficult or manageable - it's up to us.
It's amazing how many people say they'd like to write a novel. I've heard that many times, but I'll always remember the woman who said 'but I don't think I ever will.'
She was rather offended when I replied, 'No, I don't suppose you will.'
However, we talked about negative language, and she was grateful for the advice. As Henry Ford so aptly put it: 'If you think you can't - you're right!'
What, then, can parents do to help not only their children's schooling but their life skills?
Help them be aware of the language they use, and demonstrate what we mean by keeping our own words positive. They'll soon pick up that 'Science is too hard!' will only make it more challenging for them.
'I need to work at it' will make it easier to do just that!
Now we're talking! But it's still very easy for the negative talk of others to throw our kids off track.
Here's a simple technique that, believe me, really works!
It's always best to get off the mark when you meet situations where negativity rules. But when that's not an option, you can pretend that you're enclosed in an enormous bubble or plastic bell jar. And it's mobile, so it goes with you.
Affirm to yourself that positive thoughts and words can go outwards and affect others - but their negativity is simply reflected off the bubble and doesn't harm you.
Take it for a test drive. You'll like it
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