The power of positive self-talk
The other day I was driving with the kids in the car. Bryan had been trying since we left to zip up his coat. It’s a very difficult zipper to start up. One of those ones that always tries to shift up when you attach the bottom together.
A few minutes into our drive I heard him exclaim with frustration, “No, no, no, no, no!”
Before I could say anything, he calmed down and said, “That’s okay, try again!”
Because his teachers and us as parents have modeled positive encouragement for him over and over, he has learned to speak to himself in the same encouraging way, and this provides him with invaluable skills; emotional regulation, problem solving, and self reliance.
Bryan learns language through imitation and repetition, so any phrases or words he adopts into his own vocabulary are things he has heard said repeatedly by those around him.
So when he isn’t successful the first time, or when something is taking a long time to do, he says phrases such as, “keep going,” “good job,” “almost there,” “try again,” “that’s okay,” and “you’re doing great.”
Can you imagine if instead of positive affirmations the people around him expressed frustration and impatience?
My point here is that positive self talk is learned, not intuitive. Because of this, even if we grew up hearing negative affirmations spoken towards others and ourselves, we can still learn positive self talk now. We just need to start surrounding ourselves with it.
It starts with practice. Taking time every day to say aloud encouraging things to yourself so that you get used to hearing it. Writing them down and taping them up around the house so you get used to reading it. And double checking how you speak to those around you so you get used to using it.
It’s hard work, but the benefits are invaluable: emotional regulation, problem solving, and self reliance.
Bryan has autism, so it’s no small thing for him to be able to calm his own frustrations. Usually, situations like the coat zipper in the car would send him into a meltdown. But because he’d learned to encourage himself, he was able to regulate his own emotions. He expressed himself, then forgave himself, and tried again. He didn’t even need to know what was happening –the ONLY tool he needed was positive self talk. The self talk did ALL of that for him in a matter of seconds.
Positive self talk can take you from spiraling ruminations to self forgiveness to hopeful aspirations in a matter of moments.
“That’s okay, try again.”
Bryan had a problem. He couldn’t get the zipper to start. He could’ve let his frustrations get away, had a meltdown, and then definitely wouldn’t have gotten the zipper up. But using positive self talk calmed him enough to problem solve and make a plan. In his case the plan was simple, “try again.” Often our problems are more complex than that, and need more complex solutions. But positive self talk gives us the emotional regulation and positive motivation needed to make a plan. Sometimes the solution really is that simple, just “try again.” If we always reminded ourselves to “try again,” maybe we would feel less disheartened when we fail. There’s always a way to try again, even if it isn’t the solution you expected or originally planned for.
When Bryan expressed his frustration, I was ready to jump in and help him with his problem. I think all parents are ready to spring into action at a moments notice, no matter what age their child is.
But Bryan didn’t need me then. He’d learned to provide his own encouragement and positive affirmations, and therefore was self reliant in this situation.
This doesn’t mean he won’t need my help ever again to solve problems and sort through his emotions –self reliance is process, built upon itself brick by brick. But he has the foundation necessary to continue to learn self reliance.
I see many adults who are not emotionally self reliant. They depend on partners, friends, and even their children to validate them. Validation from loved ones isn’t a bad thing, but it should be icing on the cake of self validation, not the only validation you rely on. Positive self talk ensures you are in control of your own validation, your own emotions, your own self image. And then what others give isn’t a desperate need you find yourself regularly craving and seeking out, but a tender blessing from loved ones that compliments the great gift you give yourself.