Master of the Mental Game


Everybody. Always. Never.

When one of my girls throws out these terms (as in "everyone thinks this" or "I always forget my math homework" or "I'll never be able to do this") I put on the proverbial brakes.

"Name every person who thinks this. I want names."

"Have you literally not turned in your math homework ever?"

"So there's never been a time when you completed something just as challenging?"

Inevitably, only one or two names (if that) can be presented as evidence. The online math grade proves homework has, in fact, been turned in to the teacher. And the "never" can be reframed as "I have before and I can again now."

I think it's an important skill for kids to have -- how to stop runaway, often untrue, thoughts buzzing through their heads. Y'all, it's like I'm a modern-day Confucius. Except without a beard, and younger and not as wise, but at least wise enough to make sure my eyebrows don't grow off the side of my head like facial-hair antennae.

So imagine my surprise last week while at tennis clinic my tennis coach's reaction when I made a statement about my game. I swear if you listened closely you could hear the sound of screeching brakes.

"Do you want to stay at this level forever, or do you want to advance?" he asked. "Then don't say 'I have never been able to hit that stroke.' Instead say 'I am currently having some difficulty with this stroke, and here's what I can do differently,' because if you say never, you'll be right, and you'll stay right where you are." 

Then he fed me the ball a couple of times until I hit that stroke, thus dispelling the myth I really couldn't hit that particular ball. It may not be my finest or my favorite, but it is doable and has the potential to improve ... as long as I allow myself to believe it can and will improve.

Three things: first, it's easy to let little falsehoods slip in without even noticing. I hadn't caught that I was cursing myself with the "nevers." Second, my little people (who against all orders continue to grow taller and taller) will follow the example given to them. I need to guard against letting the "always, nevers, everybodys" into my life, too.

But most important is this: much of how you think determines how far you will go. If you think you can't, you can't. If you think I'll never, you won't. And if you worry about what everybody else thinks, you'll forget the most important person's opinion of you is your own.

Everyone knows that, right?



Anonymous said...

Hung By the Tongue - book my parents made me read in high school. Changed my life and hopefully my kiddos as well.

I couldn't agree with you more.

Anonymous said...

This could not be more applicable to me right now. I have started trying to pay more attention to my “negative self-talk” (i.e. Everybody. Always. Never.), which I have found to be exceptionally loud and very talkative, and working on SHUTTING IT UP! No one needs that.

Anonymous said...

Loved this!