Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mind the Gap

I usually have profound, life-altering epiphanies while taking my morning shower. I don't know what it is about this particular space and/or time, but it generally happens while I am having conversations with myself and preparing for my day. I'm not a shower singer, I'm a shower talker.

The other morning my epiphany had to do with being cognizant of my ability to either talk myself into our out of a positive experience. We, as human beings and expressors of free will, have the capacity to train our brains to be positive or negative. It really is a choice. However, to be successful in our endeavor we need to remind ourselves, often, of that goal. Sort of like keeping a gratitude journal, or filling (real or imagined) buckets, or whatever else relates to expressions of happiness or joy.

We all have "tapes" we sometimes play in our brain of words or phrases we constantly repeat to ourselves. These words can be things we heard from parents, teachers, spouses, friends, etc. The words can be either positive (such as, "you are successful") or negative (such as, "you will never amount to anything"). Regardless of the source, we play these tapes over and over in our heads until we actually believe the claim. If we tell ourselves something often enough we believe it to be true. The key is to change the tapes from negative to positive and realize that we are in complete control of our own emotions regardless of who said what to whom.

When I lived in London, England after college I used the underground subway (or "tube") as a mode of transportation. When you are waiting for the train to arrive, an automated voice comes over the speakers and repeatedly says, "Mind the Gap." This is simply a warning to stay clear of the space between the platform and the train until the train comes to a complete stop and you can get on. When you first hear the warning you realize you need to be aware of the "gap" and you move appropriately. When you hear the warning for the 6,000th time your brain has already processed this tape so many times that it's not even a conscious effort to mind the gap. The motions to move away from the gap are automatic whether you are even really hearing the automated voice or not.

If we can get to the point where we tell ourselves often enough that we are good or successful or beautiful or whatever, we can get to the point where it's not even a conscious effort to actually say the words, we will simply just believe. It takes time, no doubt, and that time frame is different for everyone. But, the point is to say the positive words. Repeatedly. Again and again. Over and over.

I tell my boys all the time that they have to believe they can accomplish something in order to actually accomplish it. Nicholas will say,"but I can't do this, that or something else" and I say,"I have faith in you. Why don't you have faith in you?" I ask Nicholas to repeat the mantra "I have faith in me" as many times as necessary until he believes he can do it. He needs to make sure that he controls the tapes that are playing in his head before the tapes start to control him. I just have to learn to practice what I preach. I'm working on it.

The other day Nicholas finished some math problems he was having trouble with. He was really proud of himself, as was I because I didn't help him at all. He said, "you know, mom...that was actually pretty easy." I asked him how his solution went from being practically impossible to so "easy." He said to me, grinning from ear to ear like the Cheshire cat, "because I have faith in me." Hallelujah and amen!

What is your "Mind the Gap?"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Filling Buckets

I came across a fabulous book for kids about how to treat other people and how important it is to be nice and kind. The book is called Have You Filled a Bucket Today? and it encourages positive behavior as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love.

This book explains to children that we all carry an invisible bucket in which we keep our feelings about ourselves. When our buckets are full, we are happy; when they are empty, we are sad. We fill our buckets by doing nice things for others such as offer a smile or a helping hand. It's important to know that other people can fill our buckets but we also fill our own bucket when we do something nice for someone else. We can also dip into our own bucket when we are not nice to someone else. The premise of the book is that we want to be "bucket fillers" not "bucket dippers."

I have read this book to my kids several times and they really seem to take the message to heart. They are very inquisitive about why people would do things to dip into someone else's bucket. We have used this book several times as we determine how to be bucket fillers.

What I like about this idea of being bucket fillers is that my kids now have something to aspire to. To just tell my kids to "be nice" or "be kind" or "don't be rude" is one thing. I could explain myself until I am blue in the face, but when I can say something tangible like, "If you tell your friend's mom thank you for a nice party, you will fill her bucket" my kids can actually put into perspective what being kind really means. They envision an actual bucket and someone with a smile on his or her face that they helped put there.

The bucket premise also works wonders for explaining why bucket dippers really hurt someone's feelings and how being rude is not acceptable. When we eat breakfast and one boy interrupts the other or calls names or doesn't say please and thank you, I can say something concrete like, "please don't interrupt your brother and be a bucket dipper." I see a light bulb go on. Bingo. They get it.

Christopher gets very upset when he thinks he has dipped in my bucket. If I have to repeat something to him several times or he doesn't do as I ask, I simply tell him that he is emptying my bucket. He does not like to empty mommy's bucket and gets very upset. He cries and says, "I didn't mean to empty your bucket, mommy. I'm sorry." Bingo. He gets it.

I'm not saying that discussing buckets is a panacea for all of my kids' transgressions. Sometimes I talk about bucket dipping and am met with blank stares and glazed expressions or rolled eyes. Eye rolling is a serious bucket-dipping offense! My kids do still push boundaries and take everything to the limit (just as they are expected to do). They can sometimes be bucket dippers more than bucket fillers. But we have made great progress in our quest to consider the feelings of others, treat others how we expect to be treated and understand the consequences of our actions.

All thanks to a little bucket.

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