Kill Failure With Word Choice

We all want our children to be successful. They may have the intelligence, mindset, and potential to be successful, but something seems to get in their way. Over the years, I have had children describe themselves in different ways. Some children use the following words to describe themselves: artistic, funny, fun, serious, smart, and capable. Others who are equally bright and capable have used the following to describe themselves: dumb, a trouble maker, bad, ugly, bad at math, slow reader, hyper, dyslexic, ADD, ADHD, sensory, defensive, a failure, and clumsy. These words are often terribly inaccurate, but it is how they feel about themselves. It would be easy to see who would be successful and who will experience constant obstacles. The negative words attract more negative experiences.

To help all children reach beyond what we think is their full potential is, Tony Robbins, a famous success and empowerment coach, points out a powerful key to helping people reach their potential lies in how we feel. How we feel is controlled in three ways:

  1. Our body and how we hold it when we are stressed.
  2. The focus of our attention: Is it a negative or positive focus
  3. The words we use to describe how we feel

Let’s look at each of these ways to see how we can teach our children to improve their performance by creating shifts in each of these areas:

  1. According to Tony, “If you change physiology, you’ll change how you feel.” He recommends changing it dramatically. Instead of saying I can do this, he will have his clients shout, “I can do this!!” three to four times and instructs them to give a power fist to demonstrate their power each time they say it. I have done this in my class and it works. It pumps them up and gets the adrenaline going that fuels their energy that allows them to complete hard work.
  2. He states, “The second one I always teach is changing your focus, because whatever you focus on, you’re going to feel. You know, if you focus on what’s wrong, everything’s wrong. What’s wrong is always available if you look for it, but so is what’s right. And so, controlling what you focus on, how you focus is another skill.”
  3. “The third thing that controls how you feel is the meaning we give things. And as soon as you focus on something you have to decide what this means to you? It’s the words that will affect our outcome. If a child makes a mistake and labels himself a failure, he/she will be less likely to find a solution. But, if that same child learns to say, “I didn’t fail. It was an idea that didn’t fail. I just need to try something else,” they will be more likely to succeed. Helping them reframe the words they are using is very powerful. Many children will catch their parents using degrading words to describe themselves, like “I am so stupid.” The students love pointing out to the parents that they need to change that statement to, “Darn, I didn’t pay attention to avoid spilling my drink all over the new table cloth. Next time I will.”

To gain insights into how your children use words when they face challenges or mistakes, ask them to spend the next three days noting what their body feels like when something challenging happens. Have them pay attention to the words that they use to describe these feelings.

Once you have the words and they notice their body posturing, it is time to help them change their bodies, focus, and words. If they change the words, the emotions will change and the body will take on a new posture. Change the posture and add dramatic movement and their emotions will change.

Ask them about each word they used to describe themselves and why they chose that word. Ask them to define what happened or who said something to them that made them feel that way. Get them to be specific. Some questions you can ask are, “Did an event happen that made you feel this way? Did someone say something that led to this belief? Were you comparing yourself to other children and thinking you should know something they know and you don’t?”

Children create stories at very young ages about who they are and if they are capable or not. Many times they have parents who tell them they are wonderful and talented. The parents may point how skilled they are in one area or another, but if the children have created a story that labels themselves with negative labels, they will begin to believe their parents are lying to them.

In my 25 years of teaching third grade, I came across students every year that had a story that did not match what I saw or what their parents had told them. One third grade boy told me, “Ms. O. I knew I wasn’t smart in preschool.” I didn’t counter him with, “Oh, Mark, but you are brilliant.” He would have thought I was lying, because he said,”My parents and grandparents were always telling me how smart I was, but when I went to preschool and couldn’t write my name like the other children, I thought to myself, ‘Mark, your parents and grandparents don’t know a thing.'”

He also indicated that he saw mistakes as failure and that smart people in his eyes never made them. This thought process caused him to lie and blame others if he made a mistake. He could not have been the one who made a mistake or he would reveal his own truth that he was not as smart as everyone thought. He would be late on projects, because being late would be the reason the grade was not good, not his work. Once we dealt with the value of mistakes as opportunities to find a different ways to get something done or achieve a goal, he changed his word from a liar to that of a preserver. Each time he overcame a mistake, he became closer to solving the challenges he faced and saw himself differently.

Most people never know why students aren’t reaching our perception of their full potential. They look for signs of ADD or dyslexia. Some get sent to an Occupational Therapist. I wouldn’t go that route until I asked the question, “When did you begin feeling that you weren’t smart?” I would end the question with the subject or issue they were having a challenge with at the time. Each time, I would get valuable insight into the will issue we needed to address. If they complained that they couldn’t read as fast as someone else, it may not have been dyslexia, but their personal expectations based on someone else’s skill.

Changing the words they choose to describe who they are will change the results they get. Instead of saying, “I’m ADD,” though they in actuality could be ADD, they could say, “I will find ways to settle my brain.” Once the statement changes, then there is a feeling they have control over it and they are more likely to find solutions. Many people with learning challenges never are identified, but they learn to compensate.

I was surprised that Mark, at the young age of 3, had determined he wasn’t smart. He drew the conclusion that his parents and grandparents didn’t know what they were talking about which demonstrated a much higher level of thinking. His personal story, however, resulted in unacceptable behaviors that were all rooted in this belief formed at 3.

To change the words he used I shared, “Mark. When a child at age three comes to that type of conclusion, it demonstrates a higher level of thinking. That is a huge indicator of how smart one really is. You are one who can take different bits of information and form conclusions. However, at that time, you drew a conclusion based on a 3 year olds thinking. Smart people are the ones who do this. Do you realize dumb people don’t know they are dumb? They probably were the ones playing in the sandbox unaware of anything that was going on around them. Do you see now why you need to change the words you say about yourself? Think about what I said and the things you are good at and come up with adjectives that describe you now with this new information. I pointed out that many things can be called smart and wanted him to zero in on what he interpreted meant smart to him. He came up with clever, active, and creative.” As a result of overcoming the fear of making mistakes, didn’t have to lie and he added the adjective, “problem solver.”

Language and changing our physiology with abrupt and affirming postures and actions can change emotions. We can overcome any obstacle and achieve beyond our potential by doing so. Potential changes as we achieve each new goal. Our potential is limitless. If we watch our words and our physiology our emotions will be kept in check and our focus will be on the positive results.

Try this with your children. Find out what word they use to describe themselves and don’t try to confirm or deny what you know of them, but ask how they formed that opinion. It is an eye-opener. Comment below what you have discovered. 

Please share your observations and what you discovered in the Comment box below. 

Need help with this process? Reach out to me. 

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