Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Brain That Changes - Part 3_3

Real Change Is Possible!

One of my favorite Celebrate Calm newsletters is: "2 phrases that destroy our kids/students"  This little bit of understanding is what really stopped me in my tracks, and turned me around to the right direction

   1st Destroying Phrase:

"1. Shaking our heads in disgust, constant negativity, "You'll never...". To my shame, this is how I communicated with Casey for the first 10 years of his life. I thought it would somehow magically motivate him to change his behavior."

This goes for marriages as well!!  It includes sarcasm, rolling eyes, sighs of exasperation, and little phrases like, "yeah, just like you always do," and "I should've known," or "what NOW?"  These are things I used to think of as just personality traits; things that make us who we are.  But now I realize they are really bad habits that hurt and destroy others, especially tender little ones.  Who we are is not as important as who we want to be, and who we want to be is not as important as who God wants us to be.  So the first step in improving our relationships is to eliminate the attitude.  

Are you trying to improve your family?  We have been there!  I'm going to weave in here two steps that are great first steps that worked for us, and many others.  All of the advice is not my own, but comes from knowledge gained from Celebrate Calm's Kirk and Casey Martin.

STEP 1 toward improving family relationships (We did this :  Apologize to your kids and spouse with no excuses for the destroying attitudes and phrases you have used; then discontinue using them.

OUCH!  Right?  It's time to be brave.  The first part of the step, "apologize to your kids and spouse with no excuses" is really scary, and sometimes people try to skip it, or sneak in some excuses.  But it is crucial to apologize with no excuses, and no finger-pointing.  Without this act, you are not going to achieve the respect of your kids and spouse.  Without it, you are not admitting accountability, your family will not hold you to a higher standard, and will be more likely to slip back into your old habits.

You are thinking right now, "But I'm not the only one in my family doing this!"  I know.  That's okay.  Take accountability for your part.  Don't worry about their part.  They will learn from your example, and you may be surprised at the apologies that start coming your way, probably not at first, but eventually, as they see you begin to change, and they want that for themselves. 

Negative thoughts, words, and behavior effects us and others down to the very molecular structure. "A Soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. " Proverbs 15:1.

The second part of Step 1, "discontinue using [the destroying phrases]" is not a matter of enduring, really, but changing yourself at the core.  Kirk suggests one way to start ridding your family of these habits is to introduce a new one.  For example:  Say 5 positive things about someone every time you point out a negative.  Make it a family rule.  When putting this into practice, you discover that the negative starts to pale, and you see the person in a more positive light.  They are able to see that you have love and appreciation for them, and they in turn have more hope, and are more likely to improve their behavior.  Pretty soon, you start to overlook negative things, as the positive things are much more important to you.  This really works on the thought level as well.  If you're only thinking a negative thought, but haven't said it, try thinking about positives.  In the begining, many of my positives were, "he's a child of a loving God."  "Jesus Christ knows him personally, and knows his potential."  If there were nothing else I could think of, I could always fall back on God.  I did this with my kids and my spouse. 

The Second destroying phrase that Kirk speaks of leads to step 2 in improving our families:

Destroying Phrase:

"# 2 "If you would just apply yourself more..." "If she would put forth more effort..."
When I hear those words, I cringe and my heart sinks. I know it's frustrating because we see very bright kids struggle with academics, behavior, etc. But why is our first assumption that it's only a matter of "applying yourself?" If it were that easy, don't you think our kids would do that in order to avoid harsh consequences?"

STEP 2 to improving your family relationships:  Let go of negative assumptions.

Kirk: "Research shows disturbing health effects of stress and negativity: anxiety, lack of confidence, difficulty with social skills, lack of focus and attention in school, hypertension, aggression, damage to the part of the limbic brain responsible for learning and memory. This negativity and yelling damages our relationships with our kids, separating Moms and Dads from the kids they love. And none of us want that."

The greatest news in the world is that we have the power to change, and change the way others affect us, by choosing to think and feel proactively, not depending on others for our moods, and not letting their moods affect us.  We are beings designed to act.  Not to be acted upon.  We can choose to praise, have compassion, have gratitude and unconditional love for others.  We can choose to ask for these gifts from our Heavenly Father, and then do everything in our power to make that change.

The most important and the only longterm effective way to affect real change,  is to allow your heart to break before God.  Pray like your life depended on it, with all your heart and soul, with a willing heart and hands to do anything the Lord tells you to do.  Then HE will change your heart, and open your eyes.  The tools listed here are only surface steps that can help, and are only the outside appearance of true, honest, heartfelt repentance.  

Here are the baby steps outlined by Kirk Martin.  When you don't know what to do, or your child does something you disapprove of, ask yourself three questions:

                      "(1) What kind of tools can I provide the child to be successful? Please think tools. No child wants to fail; he usually needs tools. Does the student need more challenging work or is she overwhelmed? Does he need his brain stimulated in my class? Do I need to provide specific, concrete directions? There are dozens and dozens of very practical tools we can use to help our kids achieve consistently.
                       (2) How can I give this child some ownership or cultivate internal motivation by using the child's gifts and passions? We don't give kids control, but we do need to give them ownership. Otherwise, no amount of bribes or consequences will matter. How can you get your child/student involved using his talents?
                        (3) Is this about ME? How many times have we tried to make the issue about our kids' effort when their apparent failure is really about US? Are we embarrassed or frustrated by their actions? Are we anxious because we think they are going to fail in life? Have we set up impossible standards? Am I nervous because I am too responsible? Am I comparing this child unfairly to others? Am I projecting my own faults onto my child, afraid he's going to make the same mistakes as me?"

Kirk on looking at reality:

"Research also gives us hope: consistent discipline, modeling self-control and teaching kids to problem solve changes families. But science tells us that changing habits takes 30-45 days. Research proves that families who have ongoing help, who practice these new habits, achieve transformation every single time. Those who just say, "I'll try to do better" always fall into old habits...and nothing changes. Same reactivity, same yelling, same negativity."

Always remember that people can and do change!    It is within our power to do so.  In fact, it is in our very nature.  

Above is a link to a talk given by Norman Doidge about "Brain Plasticity."  He is a lead psycho analyst, who has achieved success in helping patients change thought patterns that would have been unimaginable years ago.  

It is our thoughts that are our greatest enemy and our greatest ally.  It is there that the change must begin, and that is the first benefit of prayer and meditation.  

Norman Doidge on the brain and neuroplasticity

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Today is spring cleaning day.  Yes, I know it's summer. There is something refreshing and liberating about cleaning under, behind, around, and over things.  I'm feeling better about my life already.

As I do this, I am inclined to think also of my life.  How clean am I?  Have I dusted the corners and tops of things, searched for old cobwebs, pulled out furniture and shaken out the couch of my mind lately?  Have I cleaned under, over, around, and behind the parts of my life that seem to be constant and unchanging?  It is those things that are the most likely to hide problem areas.  Before you know it, if you don't consistently check, you have attracted unwanted pests, fungus, and disease into your life.  So today I'm performing a ritual found in both animal and human kingdoms, the act of clearing out and cleaning corners, and making things seem new. 

My house is not the only thing that could use refreshing.  My faith, my hope, my Love for Christ, all could use renewal.  It's time to rejoice in my Savior again--to feel again great joy and gratitude for his mercy and grace!  Praise my God as if I had just been baptized yesterday!