“Stay on your feet!” I yelled at my daughter across the street. My reaction was a quick and opposite response to “don’t fall!” – the instinctive reaction I had almost yelled.
We were out one beautiful morning taking our dog for a walk. My youngest daughter had her rain boots on, spoon and yogurt in hand. Her hands were getting cold, so she turned to head back to the house. As she began to run across the road, my “protective mind” came on board to ensure her safety. Instinctively I yelled, “don’t fall.”
As a parent, it’s understandable to want to protect your child from potential suffering. We do it all the time.
But something that morning stopped me in my tracks. As my daughter began to run, in a quick flash of thought, I realized I could take two directions. The first was to instruct her to avoid failure and not to fall. The second option was to give her something constructive to focus on that will lead her to what I considered success – making it to the house safely.
Neither instruction on my part was necessary, and whether she falls or stays on her feet is irrelevant. What was more interesting to me was the frame of mind in which I was communicating, and what part of my brain was the cause.
Part of me focused on her not failing came with as insignificant a statement as “don’t fall.” But that leaves nothing for her to focus on except the potential failure. On the other hand, the part of me that was looking through the eyes of getting safely home AND –and how to do it – came with clear instructions to “stay on your feet.” Both an intention of successfully getting home, blended with a clear strategy on how to accomplish this.
Think back to a time when you focused on what you didn’t want, versus what you did want. And as in the previous example, when both parts of me wanted the same outcome, and both came with different instructions. Flipping this thinking is a very simple, but essential reframe for the mind.
Since we receive instructions and translate them to pictures in our mind, one set of instructions came with an image of her falling to the ground because that is what we consider a failure. By saying “don’t fall,” the mind sees falling. The other came with a picture of her staying on her feet, and achieving success, by saying, “stay on your feet.”
I think of the number of times that I consulted with patients and ask them what they want, and they immediately tell me what they don’t want. I wonder how the wiring in their brain has had a lifetime association with not failing, versus what’s needed to succeed.
The actions we take not to fail, are rooted in just doing enough not to feel pain. The steps we take to succeed are rooted in optimizing. One is rooted in being safe. The other is rooted in going for it. One uses the survival brain; the other uses the frontal lobe (forebrain) achieve a specified outcome.
To better communicate with our kids from the place of our forebrain – the most human part of our brain – requires a quick detour from reactive thinking and toward the part of our brain that strategically plans to achieve an outcome.
Since survival thinking is more knee-jerk reacting than organized strategy, we need to train this part of the brain for better activation.
Here are a few ways we can maximize our frontal lobe function to better communicate with our most evolved portion of the brain.
Clear Emotional Baggage
Low tier emotions such as anger, guilt, and bitterness store in our unconscious as “brain noise” and distract your higher centers from executive thinking functions.
Taking the time to think through past interpersonal conflicts helps to clear old defensive patterns, be more present, and think more clearly.
To do this, write out a list of things in which you could be harboring unprocessed anger. Then sit quietly to write the benefits of those things happening in your life. This exercise will help free up brain space and balance the mind on issues of the past.
Equalized breathing techniques, practiced on a daily basis, can assist in balancing emotions through balancing the stress and relaxation systems in your autonomic nervous system. Balancing the unconscious through intentional breathing has been shown to activate the pre-frontal cortex or ‘executive center’ of the brain.
Meditation has been proven to have many net benefits to our health. Taking just five minutes, a couple of times a day, to sit quietly has been shown to have positive effects on brain function and stress reduction. Creating a meditation habit can be beneficial in activating the frontal lobe and becoming more resourceful in moments where old practices may want to creep in.
Regardless of what strategies you use to optimize your wellbeing, it is imperative that you continue to see the value in doing personal development work. The effort you put into your disciplines and routines will have a dramatic effect on the overall quality of communication you have with your children. Your level of interaction is a direct reflection of your inner well-being.