Want to Make a Change? Try this …

Want to Make a Change? Here we go ...

Criticism never builds. Ever. Not even with a happy building word like ‘constructive’ before it. Criticism is criticism. It’s never constructive and it’s never helpful. It paralyses willpower and shackles the capacity to change. It makes the receiver less confident, less shiny, less able. 

Yet, when we try to do something differently and don’t quite get there, we can be so quick to criticise. Too often, we unleash words on ourselves that crush our willpower, our confidence and our motivation. Rather than protecting ourselves with the fight of a warrior, we let the harsh words stream through our cracks like dirty water. We’re never going to change anything while that’s going on.

Stay the same to change. Wait. What?

It’s a paradox, but the more we accept the way we are, the more likely we are to change. Here’s how that works …

When we try something new, the critic inside us has something to push against – and it will push: ‘You’ll never do it.’ ‘You couldn’t change if you wanted to.’ ‘You’ll just disappoint yourself again. Save yourself the trouble and stop now.’ Our inner critic will always prefer things to stay as they are. That way, there’s no room for disappointment. If we lapse, even a little, the critic gets louder. It has more reason than ever to get us to stop. ‘Told you.’ ‘You’ve ruined it.’ ‘May as well give up now.’ ‘You’ll just end up disappointed if you keep going. You don’t want that.’ When the critic inside us becomes too noisy and overbearing, we’ll do whatever is needed to quiet it. We’ll give up. Partly because we believe the noise. Partly because we’re drained. 

On the other hand, when we accept ourselves as we are, our inner critic is put to bed. There’s nothing to push against. As long as we’re not trying to change, there’s no danger of failing. We don’t need our critic to hold us back because if we’re not trying anything new, there’s no disappointment to hold us back from. When we stand fully as we are (rather than somewhere between who we are and who we’d like to be) one of two things will happen.

The first is that we’ll actually realise that we’re pretty okay – maybe even better than okay – as we are.

The second is that we’ll become so frustrated with our ‘is’ that we won’t be able to help changing. The more the familiar is amplified, the more we will get to know what the familiar actually is – what it looks like, feels like, what it does to us. With this will come the energy and the willpower to change. The excuses just won’t work any more.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to give up sugar. Having made the decision, it’s likely that every time you reach for something you ‘shouldn’t’ be eating, first you’ll make an excuse. ‘But I’ve been really great for 2 hours – no sugar at all – and a girl can’t live on fresh air, ammiright?’, or ‘I’m eating out with friends, so it doesn’t really count. Yep. Show me the dessert menu. Really? Dinner first. Fine then.’ Then, once the sugar is safely in your belly with no chance of return, it’s likely that you’ll cane yourself for doing it. ‘You’ve ruined it.’ ‘You’re useless.’ ‘May as well make the most of the rest of the weekend and start again on Monday. Seconds anyone?’ Familiar? 

The alternative is to fully accept that you and sugar are a pretty tight duo. Rather than making excuses when you go for something sweet, just let it happen, but take a moment to own it. Be mindful of what you’re doing. ‘I’m going to eat this crazy good sweet thing. I’m going to bite it, chew it, swallow it and feel okay. That’s what I’m going to do.’ Then, see how you feel. Do you still want to go through with your sugar hit? That’s absolutely fine. Go for it. But whatever you do, don’t give yourself a hard time when you do. Just acknowledge it, and see what happens. It’s likely that if you do this enough, eventually you’ll end on, ‘No actually, I won’t.’ 

I know this works. I’ve done it myself. 

Try this …

Mindset is critical to change. We need to build up rather than to tear down. Every time. 

♦  What would lift you?

You’ve failed again. You have no willpower. You’re always going to be fat.

OR

So you missed a day. Well that’s no big deal. Pop on your shoes and let’s go for a walk.

♦   What would keep you in the game?

You’re useless. Two days was all you could go. Now it’s all ruined. You’re back to where you started. Knew you couldn’t do it.

OR 

So you ate the ice cream. That’s alright. You went all day yesterday and stayed completely on track. Next time, let’s try half as much.

♦   What would inspire you?

Why do you stand there and say nothing. You’re so dull. You may as well be invisible. Just say something – anything – and stop being so shy! 

OR 

People who know you love you. You’re pretty amazing you know. You should give more people the chance to see what all the fuss is about.

It might take longer but patience, acceptance and compassion is key to change. 

This is particularly important with children. Criticism will knock the spirit right out of them. And once it’s gone, you can’t knock it back in. You need to know this: Inside all of us is that child, craving our approval. When we give ourselves a hard time – when we bully ourselves – that small child withers, and takes the rest of us down with it. 

If someone else is stunting your growth …

If you’re the one feeling flattened, hurt or bruised by someone else, you deserve better. Without exception. If you’re being criticised for something that has no impact whatsoever on anyone else, it’s very likely that whoever is doing this to you is seeing something in you that they don’t like about their own self.

It works like this. We all have things about ourselves we don’t like. When we don’t get comfortable with those things, we’ll work really hard to push them down to where they can be ignored. The problem is that this really doesn’t work very well. The more we ignore those qualities in ourselves, the more we notice them in other people. It’s just the way it is. When we see them in others, they act as reminders that stir up the muddy depths of ourselves where we keep our hidden things. Many times these things that we hide don’t deserve to be hidden but for some reason we’ve learn to hate these parts of ourselves and reject them. In the next person, those same qualities might live happily in awareness with no need to be pushed away, but we’re all different aren’t we. 

Criticism feels bad because it usually comes with so much more than the message When criticism is spoken with a spiked tongue, or thrown with a fistful of shame, it will always be hard to find the message that was intended. 

Words can wound or they can lift. Even the ones that hurt can come from good intentions, but good intentions won’t repair the damage and put back what criticism drains. 

There are always things we can learn. When the message is given with love and generous intent, it might be one to listen to. When it’s a cruel message delivered in a cruel way, move the messenger along. You’re just too good for them. You really are.

Be you own greatest fan club … and watch you go.

The hardest thing isn’t changing, but easing up on the things we do to ourselves that hold us back. It takes courage and strength to get out of our own way, usually because it means doing something new and unfamiliar – and that’s never easy.

Words that deliver potential and acceptance (‘You’ve got this!’) will work wonders. Every time. Accept where you’re at and speak to yourself only ever in a way that gives you flight. Then, watch you go, because honestly, you’ve got this.

 

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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