“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” – Proverbs 23:7
The above proverbial verse is one that has always resonated with me. We are what we think, we are a product of our own thoughts and yet people really underestimate the power of their mind and how subtle underlying thoughts shape exactly who they are.
Self talk is constant and most of the time, very negative and imbalanced, and the reasons why self talk is usually negative can vary from person to person. For some people, it is due to the fact that they compare themselves to others, some naturally struggle with low self esteem and others feel that it is a way to keep them “humble.” I mean many times if you ask a person to write a list of their positive attributes and a list of their negative attributes, they can quickly spill out everything that they find negative about themselves and yet to list their positive qualities can be more difficult.
We are really our own toughest critics. Being critical of self is not an issue all in itself, however being overly critical is. That is why if a person wishes to have a successful and healthy life, they need to have a successful, healthy and balanced mind.
Being mindful about what we say to ourselves is vital, however more importantly, we need to be careful about what others say to us about ourselves. Too many people have an opinion about who we are and how we should think about ourselves or about certain situations that happen to us.
Let me illustrate further with a personal example. There was a time that I was working as a part time tutor and one of my clients was a single mother who wanted me to tutor her five year old son and help him with his school work as he was really falling behind. I remember the first time I went to her home to do the first lesson. I greeted her and she then proceeded to introduce me to her son. He was lovely, energetic and full of life.
However, before even telling me his name, she told me that he was dyslexic and that was the reason he wasn’t able to learn as well as he could in school.
I was completely taken aback because I wasn’t expecting to meet his problem before meeting him. I mean, I could imagine that there was more to him than the learning difficulty he was labeled with. So I immediately stopped her and explained that this was unhelpful because what she did was introduce his difficulty to me before even introducing him. I knew that I probably stepped out of line but I couldn’t help myself, especially because she said those words right in front of him.
Words carry energy and have power and if she was so free to tell me what she felt was wrong with him and I was a stranger, what was she saying to her family and friends? It’s like she used any opportunity to repeat the fact that he had a reason for not doing so well in school. This doesn’t help him as he then feels that his dyslexia is his identity and not just a part of his identity, especially if she was placing such focus and importance on it. This gave me an insight as to what may be contributing to him lagging behind in his school work, and it wasn’t necessarily because he was dyslexic but the fact that the mother strongly felt the need to always reinforce it constantly and at every opportunity.
And what was the need? Was she saying it for his benefit or for her benefit? Did she feel guilty that he wasn’t doing so well in school so constantly repeating about his learning difficulty served as a reminder to help her feel some kind of relief that there wasn’t much that she could do to assist in his learning. She in effect relinquished control of the situation because she didn’t know how to deal with it.
This is parallel to a problem that I find with the modern generation, they seem to want you to meet their problem or their issue before meeting them, in other words their problem is who they are, it is their identity and both are inseparable.
Now one does not need to be a psychologist to understand how harmful and unhealthy this kind of thinking is. This is the reason why many people can feel reluctant to find healing, this is why many are extremely offended when you touch on their problem, even more so when you say that their problem or what they think is their problem is not actually the thing that is holding them back. Do you know why they feel this way? Because they feel personally attached to their problem, so when you “attack” their problem, they feel like you are attacking them.
Now going back to the mother, my reply was also said in the hearing of the child deliberately, it was said with respect, and with utmost care, not to offend or undermine her in any way shape or form. It was said with love, because though she was a stranger to me, I could just envision the future of that child carrying all those unhelpful words wherever he went and taking it into every new situation he entered, and I couldn’t bear it. I explained that though I can understand and can definately empathise with the challenges he would likely encounter due to his learning difficulties, this did not define him and his education didn’t need to be written off because he was dyslexic.
Now I practice what I preach and this was the approach I had when I was tutoring him. Not allowing him to settle in his limitations.
I remember that he had alot of difficulties spelling “CAT,” and he wasn’t interested in getting it right either. All he wanted to do was play video games. A lot of video games. But I don’t really think it was about the video games, I think the video games were more of a distraction for him, because the more he was getting the answers and spellings wrong, the more demotivated he was getting and the less he wanted to even try. At least the video games was what he was good at, or what he believed anyway. So this is what I used to “inspire” him to be confident with his spelling. I found out that his favourite game was Minecraft, so I tried my luck and asked him to spell Minecraft and oh my goodness, he did. Without pausing, without hesitating, he spelt minecraft, M-I-N-E-C-R-A-F-T. However remember he couldn’t spell cat. So was spelling the issue? Or was it just what he focused on?
I used this new understanding to help him become more confident with his spelling, I would find elements in the game and get him to spell those words and little by little, he could spell all the other words. Now this isn’t to say that his learning difficulties magically disappeared, of course not, however what it meant is that he realised that he didn’t have to settle in his limitation and focus on what he wasn’t able to do.
I was really glad to have disrupted that pattern of thinking in him. Remember, she literally introduced him as “this is my son and he has issues with education because he is dyslexic.” So whenever he faces an issue in education and with his school work throughout the course of his life, these words from his mother will replay in his mind and then he settles or excuses himself from making the effort by believing that he is not capable. Many times, he may not even try because at least he has an excuse to fall back on. It is not even an excuse, it is part of him. And what I have seen is that, even though his mother explained that his struggle or issue was solely in relation to education, she had already planted that seed in him, that his dyslexia was the reason he was unable, therefore he can actually apply this same blueprint to any area of his life. The brain is powerful and most times, automatic. We make sense of the world around us by referencing past information and experiences. This is why utmost care should be taken before labeling children and if possible, not labeling them at all.
So black people need to be careful about what they listen to, who they listen to and what they are saying to each other. Going through life believing that they are oppressed and regurgitating it whatever opportunity they get will not help them. Many need to think differently in order for them to unlock the freedom that is already inside of them. In this way, they can battle all the external problems that come against them and be able to overcome them all. However, first they need to overcome themselves.
Do you know why some succeed and others don’t? Because some people realise that their biggest enemy is not external conditions such as the system, the government, society or other people. They understand that their biggest enemy can be themselves. And this is not in a self-hating way but a self-challenging way. They make themselves their biggest competition. Therefore they are constantly pushing themselves to do better, to be better, to be wiser. They are constantly growing, constantly developing and constantly learning. Those who do not look to self for the problem, do not look to themselves for the solution. This is not to say that they are the problem, but rather that they have the power within themselves to solve the problem.