Recently I was asked to talk about my working life and remembered something a careers officer said to me, when I was about 13 years old. You may remember that when considering the courses we would be doing in high school most of us went through some kind of aptitude testing.
This particular careers officer may not realize the importance of what he said – or he was quite deliberate. Either way, at the end of all the tests he looked over the results, looked up at me and said “you can do anything you choose to do in life”.
Those words to a 13 year-old girl, just beginning to mature, with frontal lobes (the very front part of our brain) starting to develop, have had a significant and positive effect on my life.
(“The frontal lobes are important for voluntary movement, expressive language and for managing higher level executive functions. Executive functions refer to a collection of cognitive skills including the capacity to plan, organise, initiate, self-monitor and control one’s responses in order to achieve a goal.” Brain Map Frontal Lobes Queensland Health
Words are extremely powerful: remember the phrase “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?
Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
Words spoken to a child absolutely form their view of themselves, so naturally we have a responsibility to consider them carefully; and when we have said something potentially destructive in haste, frustration or distraction it’s important to acknowledge that, to apologise and to change the message to a positive one.
Even a simple “not now, I’m busy” can give a child the message that they’re not important – when of course our children are hugely important to us.
But adults are not immune from being hurt by words, and in my book the same applies – apologies and positives are required. Research with adults in high performance business teams has shown that at least five positives are needed to overcome one negative (Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada IDed). The same ratio was found in research with couples (John Gottman and Robert Levenson),
Moreover, our words to ourselves carry enormous weight. How many times do you hear someone calling themselves an idiot, or stupid, or clumsy… how often do you do that? Are our words about ourselves generally negative or positive. If there’s more of the former, then we have to do some repair work.
Consider this: I remember being taught to apply the question “is it kind; is it true; is it necessary” before saying something.
After all, it costs nothing but a moment’s thought to say something positive to someone – whether it be a shop assistant or a life partner – and it’s particularly important for children. Think about the messages you received as a child – which ones serve you now? And how do you rate yourself in terms of how positive your messages are to others?