Today’s kids are immersed in media. More than ever before, tweens and teens are watching, reading, listening, creating, and communicating throughout their entire day. It’s become harder to distinguish between screen time and just … time. The Common Sense Census found that American teens average about nine hours of media per day and tweens about six per day. This doesn’t include time spent doing homework on a computer or tablet or reading books for school.
Parents should feel empowered to set limits on screens of all sizes. Devices are a huge part of screen time, and kids need support in establishing balance and setting limits. Depending on your family, these rules can be as simple as “no phones at the dinner table” or “no texting after 9 p.m.”
Encourage your kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users. Media can be incredibly productive, educational, and empowering. Helping younger kids find great content and get access to quality books, complex movies, challenging games, and safe apps and websites fosters a positive relationship with media.
Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. Our research shows tweens and teens think multitasking has no impact on the quality of their homework. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in conversation.
Talk the talk, walk the walk. Lead by example by putting your own devices away during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.
When it comes to screen time, every family will have different amounts of time that they think is “enough.” What’s important is giving it some thought, creating age-appropriate limits (with built-in flexibility for special circumstances), making media choices you’re comfortable with, and modeling responsible screen limits for your kids. Try these age-based guidelines to create screen rules that stick.
Preschoolers. There are lots of great TV shows, apps, games, and websites geared for this age. But too much time spent in front of a screen can interfere with activities that are essential for growing brains and bodies.
Go for quality and age-appropriateness. Not everything for preschoolers needs to be a so-called “brain-builder,” but there’s a difference between mindless and mindfulentertainment. Our reviews can steer you toward titles that help preschoolers work on developmental skills like sharing, cooperation, and emotional intelligence.
Sit with them, and enjoy the discovery process. There will always be moments when you need to rely on the TV or an app to distract your preschooler while you get something done. But as much as you can, enjoy media together. Little hands and developing brains really benefit from your company (and guidance!).
Begin setting limits when kids are little. Habits get ingrained early, so try to establish clear screen-time rules when your kids are young. For games, apps, and websites, you may need to set a timer. For TV, just say “one show.”
Elementary and Middle Schoolers. At this age, kids love TV shows, games, movies, and online videos. They begin to explore more and hear about new shows and games from friends. Because they can access these things by themselves, it’s crucial to continue to supervise their activities and help them stick to your rules.
Start with an endpoint. Use whatever tools you have — your DVR, Netflix, OnDemand — to pre-record shows, cue them up, or plan ahead to watch at a specific time. That way, one show won’t flow into the other, and you can avoid commercials. If your kids are into YouTube, search for age-appropriate videos, and add them to a playlist to watch later. Because most games don’t have built-in endings (and are, in fact, designed to make kids play as long as possible), set a timer or some other cue that says “time to stop.”
Help them balance their day. Kids this age need guidance from you on a daily plan that includes a little bit of time for everything. And staying involved works: Kids whose parents make an effort to limit media use spend less time with media than their peers do, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ worksheets to create a family media plan.
Practice what you preach. It’s tempting to keep reaching for your phone to check email, texts, Facebook, or the news. But your kids will be the first to call you out for not “walking the talk.” Plus, they’ll pick up habits from you. Model the media behavior that you want your kids to emulate.
Help them make quality choices. You still have a say in what they see, hear, and play. Put in your two cents about the importance of quality shows, games, and movies.
Crack down on multitasking. High school kids who’ve discovered texting, IM, Facebook, and music tend to do them all at once — especially when they’re supposed to be doing mundane tasks like homework. But a University of Michigan study found that humans are terrible multitaskers and that the practice actually reduces the ability to concentrate and focus.
Find ways to say “yes.” Look for movies they can watch. Find games you’re OK with. If your teens ask to see something you don’t approve of, help them find alternatives.
Covenant Eyes users might think, “What does this mean for my struggle with porn? How should we approach this diagnosis?” These are important questions that I want to help you think thoroughly about.
What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder?
If you care to read the official definition for CSBD, here it is. These types of definitions can be technical, but they’re important to understand:
“Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior over an extended period (e.g., six months or more) that causes marked distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
What are the implications of this that we can clearly affirm?
There are good expressions of sexual behavior and bad expressions of sexual behavior. The ICD would say healthy and unhealthy. Christians would add holy and unholy. Healthiness and holiness are not competing concepts, and both should be considered important in this conversation.
Sexual behavior has the propensity to be ensnaring and can disrupt many areas of life. This is aligned with the Christian view that sin has a predatory intent to destroy people’s lives.
For a habit to become enslaving, an extended period of repetition is required. This is common sense.
Pornography is not a victimless activity; many people are negatively affected. This counters one of the most common lies in our culture about the innocence of viewing pornography.
There is hope for change. The entire point of placing diagnoses in the ICD is that these diagnoses represent experiences for which some degree of freedom or relief is possible.
Why Was CSBD Included as a Diagnosis?
While it may get a little nerdy, to evaluate the inclusion of CSBD in this diagnostic structure we also need to consider why this diagnosis was added.
“Although this category resembles that of substance dependence, it is included in the ICD‐11 impulse control disorders section in recognition of the lack of definitive information on whether the processes involved in the development and maintenance of the disorder are equivalent to those observed in substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. Its inclusion in the ICD‐11 will help to address unmet needs of treatment seeking patients, as well as possibly reducing the shame and guilt that distressed individuals associate with seeking help.”
So to summarize:
Researchers are unsure if CSBD has the same physiological features as substance dependence. Uncertainty on this point is why they don’t use the more common label of sexual addiction to describe this experience.
A large number of people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Diagnoses are included in the ICD when it becomes common enough that clinicians see an increase in prevalence for an experience.
The official diagnosis makes it easier for these individuals to be reimbursed for counseling. Insurance companies require a diagnostic code to reimburse for services, which made it difficult for individuals to receive counseling. Adding a diagnosis to the ICD is as much about third party reimbursement as it about discovering something new.
It allows for better research on compulsive sexual behavior. Research helps us to differentiate speculation from empirically verifiable approaches to working with a given life struggle. This kind of research should enrich both professional and lay-based care strategies.
Does This New Recognition Present Any Concerns?
Sexual behavioral can get out of control. When it does, lots of people are affected, and WHO wants insurance companies to reimburse for counseling. If we want people to be free from destructive sexual behavior, this all seems fine. But are there any reasons to be cautious with this new label?
When a pattern of behavior receives a diagnostic label, it often creates an external locus of control. Diagnostic labels lead us to think something is happening to us rather than being done by us. There is some concern that this label could reinforce a sense of passivity towards change and a lack of ownership for one’s choices.
The moral nature of the activity can be lost with a label. Too often we fail to realize that something can be both unhealthy and immoral. We treat it as an either-or instead of a both-and. There is some concern that this diagnostic label could distract from the role of repentance in change.
Also, we often assume the remedy for a diagnosis will be medicinal. Again, this doesn’t need to be either-or. The remedy for diabetes involves both insulin and exercise. If there is a medicine that can help with impulse control, we should be happy. But regardless, the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” will be required in both taking the medicine as prescribed and other behavioral choices towards righteous living.
How Should We Approach This New Diagnosis?
The answer to this question will vary from person to person. Diagnostic labels are a tool. Any tool can be used for good purposes. In contrast, any tool can also be used for destructive purposes. The problem with tools is usually not with the tool, but with how a given individual utilizes that tool.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, affirm the following:
Your friend is not alone in their struggle. This can help alleviate some of the stigma associated with sexual sin.
Sexual activity has an enslaving tendency. If someone fights a bear and loses, we don’t call them weak. It’s the nature of the bear to be stronger. When someone engages sexual sin and becomes enslaved, it doesn’t mean they’re uniquely weak. It means it’s the nature of this activity to be enslaving.
Even secular health experts (meaning, those without the bias of Christian morals) want individuals enslaved to sexual activity to have access to help in the pursuit of freedom. Appealing to secular experts helps reveal the frustration point, “I only need to change because I’m a Christian and God’s hung up about sex,”which is not true.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, caution the following:
Your choices matter. A label can explain why change is hard; it is not a reason to quit trying.
Abstinence and repentance are not the same thing. A secular counselor would just want you to stop engaging in self-destructive behavior (abstinence). God invites you to a restored relationship with Him (repentance).
No amount of science will make change easy. But the work is worth it. If there is anything we can learn from science to make our efforts at change more effective, we will. But just like science has taught us a great deal about dieting, those advances in science haven’t made losing weight easy. Peer support and wise choices are still the central elements to change. So, let’s keep going together.
If you are interested in history of diagnostics, I would recommend Allen Frances’ book Saving Normal. Dr. Frances is a psychiatrist who loves his profession but is concerned about overmedicating normal physical struggles. Here is a brief excerpt from his book and few reflections to whet your appetite to read more.
The talk. The birds and the bees. The awkward conversation with your parents you dreaded as a child. It probably went something like this: “Well, when two people love each other very much…” followed by a vague description of the physical act of sex, contraceptives, pregnancy, and STIs.
But were you ever taught about consent? What about affirmative consent? Did your parents and the adults in your life practice consent with each other, and with you? The #MeToo stories about non-consensual interactions, specifically ones that live in the grey area or ones that happen in childhood, are something we should all strive to eliminate from the next generation by educating our kids today.
If we can teach our kids about consent and show them how to practice it through our actions, through those little teaching moments, then maybe, these stories can be less common.
Here are seven ways to teach your kids, and the kids in your lives, about consent.
Practice consent by example Before children even learn to speak, they learn by observing and mimicking the world around them. It’s called observational learning. By practicing consent with our partners, friends, and other children, we can begin to model what consent should look like to those ever-watchful eyes.
This also extends to how we practice consent in our relationships with our children. By giving children choices in expressing consent in how they would like to be touched, we teach them how to express it when we’re not around. For example, If you want to kiss your child goodnight, ask them, “May I give you a kiss goodnight?” and respect their answer.
Give them bodily autonomy Giving children choice is a gateway to giving them the tools to express their consent. You can ask your child “Do you want to wear your blue shoes or your yellow shoes today?” In the same way, it is important to give children options when it comes to their body. For example, if they have a rash and they need ointment you can say, “You need ointment for your rash, do you want to put it on, or can I help you?”
Giving children simple choices every day shows them that they have bodily autonomy so that they can carry that into other interactions. In the same way, it is important to not take that bodily autonomy away from your children. A common way children lose their bodily autonomy is through adults coercing them to hug and/or kiss relatives and friends. It’s important to show children that they have a choice. If they say no, you can give them alternatives, like “How about a fist bump?” but the key is to respect a “no” that may follow.
Teach them to listen to their bodies Consent isn’t just a verbal interaction, so it’s important that we teach children to listen to their bodies. What feels good and what doesn’t feel good to them? Teaching them what it feels like to be present in their physical self, and what it feels like to have their physical needs honored and met, is key to them being able to appropriately express their needs later.
Teaching children about their physical pleasure is something that Sue Jaye Johnson, a journalist and filmmaker, talks about working through with her daughters. In an interview for the Future of Sex Podcast, she talks about how her daughter will ask her to rub her back and how she then asks “Well, how would you like me to rub your back?” giving her daughter the space to think about her pleasure and express her physical wants in a productive way. In the same way, we also need to teach our children to listen to their gut feelings and instincts. Our bodies are a powerful tool in telling us that something doesn’t feel right. By encouraging children to give credence to these feelings and voice them, we encourage an understanding of their own pleasure and needs and how they might express that to future partners.
Give them the tools to express their physical wants and needs Once a child has language at their disposal, we can begin to help them express their wants and needs though their words. We can teach them polite ways to decline affection like “No, thank you. I don’t want to hug right now.” But we should also be teaching them that they can just say “no” and that that’s ok, too.
Rather than teaching our girls the narrative that if a boy teases you, he likes you, we should be teaching our kids that if they don’t like something and ask someone to stop, they need to stop. If their words aren’t heeded, that may be the appropriate time to involve an adult or remove themselves from interaction with the offending kid. In the same way, it is important to teach kids to ask permission, with words and gestures. They can offer a hand to hold or hold out their hands for a hug, but they also need to ask, use their words, and know that someone may say no.
Teach them how to handle physical rejection While we need to teach our kids how to say no, we also need to teach our kids to recognize and accept the rejection of affection. It’s important to encourage them to stop when someone says no, and to step in as adults when we recognize our kids being affection aggressors, holding other kids a little too long or a little too hard.
We can teach kids to accept rejection and redirect them. We can tell them that just because a friend doesn’t want a hug, that that doesn’t mean they don’t love them and we can direct them to show affection in other ways. You can tell your child to use words of affirmation, acts of service, or gifts to express affection. While channeling affection is important, it’s also important to just teach that it’s ok that someone doesn’t want something, in the same way that they may not want things at times. They are in control of their bodies, just as someone else is in control of theirs.
Turn awkward moments into teaching opportunities Something I’ve talked a lot about with peers is how their parents handled sex scenes in movies and television growing up. As a millennial, the general binary in my generation is parents who fast-forwarded through sex scenes and parents who made you endure the sex scenes in a tense silence. In addition to this binary, there are a lot of movies and shows from my childhood, and from generations prior, that display non-consensual interactions in a way that makes them seem okay.
What if we didn’t let that slide? What if we took media and created a dialogue, especially with older children and teens? If you’re watching a movie with your kid that has a sex scene, use the time that could be spent being awkward to talk about what’s being done right and what the characters should be doing regarding consent in the interaction.
Believe them and advocate for them Finally, and most importantly, it is essential to believe children and advocate for them. If your child expresses discomfort or unease, ask them about their feelings and validate them. This is a crucial step of Emotion Coaching. When you believe them, it creates an open channel for communication between you. It teaches them them to trust you and trust their own instincts. So in turn, they might also believe the story of someone else.
Ask them if they want or need intervention. It’s then your responsibility to advocate for them with whomever is making them uncomfortable. That might mean talking to a parent, teacher, coach, or other adult. Sometimes we’re the ones that need to step in and have those tough conversations until our children are old enough to have them on their own.
Rather than having “the talk” with your kids, think of teaching consent as an ongoing dialogue—a million little conversations and day-to-day actions that can help them feel comfortable and safe in their own bodies, and respect the sanctity of someone else’s.
10 WAYS YOUR KIDS COULD SEE PORN WITHOUT YOU KNOWING
“Are you excited for school to start?!”
As a kid, I would dread that question. I never wanted summer to end! Of course, now that I’m a parent, I find myself asking that question.
For a kid, back-to-school is about the buzzing excitement of a new adventure. It’s shopping for new clothes and school supplies, seeing friends again after a long summer apart, and getting to know new teachers, classrooms, and subjects.
For the parents, it’s the longed-for reality of a quiet house and the return of a regular schedule. Our days are spent on work routines, chores, or errands, while our kids are out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Our evening schedules fill up with activities and the pace of life increases. In all the commotion of a new school year, it’s easy to overlook some of the basic precautions we would (and should) normally take to keep our kids safe.
As you prepare your child to head back to school, here are ten potential “danger zones” where your kids could encounter mature or inappropriate content.
It’s the second most popular search engine after Google and one of the easiest ways for our kids to consume content such as video game walk-throughs, music videos, and movie trailers. But, the platform also contains a boatload of content that you may consider inappropriate for your children.
Some of the biggest dangers on YouTube are the suggested videos displayed after each video view. Clicking from one enticing video to the next can become a downhill slide from innocent to explicit content..
Kids love Instagram. In fact, some of them practically live there, documenting and sharing each moment of their lives with their group of friends. The image-based nature of the platform appeals to young people, but that nature combined with a lack of oversight on the part of Instagram can result in easily accessible porn.
This is another social media platform that kids spend a lot of time on. The large number of photo filters make it fun to share pictures and videos with friends. Unfortunately, this platform also hosts a volume of adult content, and there is very little enforcement by Snapchat to keep underage users from seeing it.
The “instant picture” feature of Snapchat can also be dangerous for young children. When a picture is sent or received, it can only be viewed for up to ten seconds; then, it disappears forever. This makes it easy to send inappropriate pictures and videos without the fear of being caught.
4. Google Images
Searching Google for images and videos can be a quick, convenient way to research a topic for school or entertainment. But, it’s important to remember that the search results can (and often will) contain mature content when Google SafeSearch has not been activated.
This is another way that kids might encounter the “rabbit hole” effect, where clicking on one enticing image reveals a list of other suggested images, which can become increasingly graphic in nature.
5. Personal Devices
Many kids have their own phones and tablets. It can be a great way to stay connected with your child and a fun source of entertainment for them.
However, it’s important for parents to remember that it’s our job to teach our children how to behave in a healthy, responsible manner, and that includes the use of their personal devices. Take the time to research and set up the available parental controls on your kid’s device. Also, using Screen Accountability software can promote honest, grace-filled conversations with our kids about how they use their devices.
When their devices are properly protected, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your kids are safe, and they can feel free to have fun without you hovering over their shoulder.
6. School Laptops or Tablets
Many schools now offer students the opportunity to take home a school device, such as a laptop or iPad. It’s a great way to make sure all students have access to technology. Schools tend to lock these devices down so that students aren’t able to abuse them, but if you’re a parent, you know that kids can be resourceful. It’s always a good idea to have a basic understanding of the protections in place on your child’s school device.
7. Library Computers
Public libraries are a great way for people with limited internet access to get online for free. Most schools will also have a computer lab available for students to do research online. These are public places, but that doesn’t always stop a determined young person from searching out inappropriate content.
8. Your Devices
Do your kids know the password to access your phone, tablet, or laptop? Do you allow them to use your devices unsupervised?
If your kids are using your devices, you should consider implementing the same protections you would use on their devices. Otherwise, lock them out. They can still pick up your phone in a emergency and dial 911 without unlocking it.
9. A Friend’s House
It’s a basic rule of parenting that most of us do instinctively: know who your kids’ friends are and know their parents.
But, have you considered asking those parents how they are protecting their kids’ devices? Are the kids left unsupervised with their devices? Do they have their phone or laptop in their bedroom behind closed doors?
10. A Friend’s Device
You can’t be everywhere at once. No parent can. Maybe you trust the level of supervision at your child’s friend’s house, but what about at school? Or at the mall?
It’s a good idea to talk to your kids about using their friend’s devices and let them know you still expect responsible behavior, even when you’re not there to see it.
So, what can you do?
With the ease of access to media of all kinds via internet-connected devices, it can be overwhelming as a parent to try and keep up. Here are a few suggestions to help you keep your kids a little safer.
Pay attention. Know where your kids are, who they are spending time with, and what they are doing together. Just knowing you’re paying attention can often dissuade kids from acting out when they’re tempted.
Have conversations. Be a sounding board for your kids. Listen more than you talk. Let them know they can come to you with any problem, and they won’t be judged or condemned. Talk openly about things like pornography and why it can be so enticing and harmful. It’s important to maintain your authority, but you can do so in a way that encourages open communication and trust rather than secrecy.
Use technology to your advantage. Tech is often the problem, but it can also be the solution. Screen Accountability and Filtering software, such as Covenant Eyes, can help facilitate conversations with your child about how to use their devices safely and avoid online temptations. That’s the goal, after all: teach them how to stay safe.
Back-to-school is a good time to remind ourselves that our aim is not to put our kids in cages, but to raise them up into healthy, responsible adults who know how to navigate this digital world with integrity.
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT VIOLENCE, CRIME, AND WAR
Exposure to graphic images, distressing information, and horrific
headlines can affect kids’ overall well-being.
shootings. Nuclear weapons. A robbery at your local corner store. Where do you
start when you have to explain this stuff to your kids? Today, issues involving
violence, crime, and war — whether they’re in popular shows, video games,
books, or news coverage — reach even the youngest kids. And with wall-to-wall
TV coverage, constant social media updates, streaming services that broadcast
age-inappropriate content any time of day, plus the internet itself, you have
to have a plan for discussing even the worst of the worst in a way that’s
age-appropriate, that helps kids understand, and that doesn’t cause more harm.
Don’t bring it up —
unless you think they know something. There’s no reason
to bring up school shootings, terrorist attacks, threats of war, or the like
with young kids. If you suspect they do know something — for example, you hear
them talking about it during their play — you can ask them about it and see if
it’s something that needs further discussion.
Affirm that your
family’s safe. In the case of scary news, such as wilderness fires
— even if you’re a little rattled — it’s important for young children to know
they’re safe, their family is OK, and someone is taking care of the problem.
Hugs and snuggles do wonders, too.
Simplify complex ideas
— and move on. Abstract ideas can complicate matters and may even
scare young kids. Use concrete terms and familiar references your kid will
understand, and try not to overexplain. About a mass shooting, say, “A man
who was very, very confused and angry took a gun and shot people. The police
are working to make sure people are safe.”
“real” and “pretend.” Young kids have rich
fantasy lives and mix up make-believe and reality. They may ask you if a scary
story is really true. Be honest, but don’t belabor a point.
Wait and see. Unless they
ask, you know they were exposed, or you think they know something, don’t feel
you have to discuss horrific news or explain heinous crimes such as rape,
beheadings, dismemberment, and drug-fueled rampages (especially to kids in the
younger end of this age range or who are sensitive). If kids show signs of
distress by acting anxious, regressing, or exhibiting some other tip-off that
something’s amiss — for example, they’re reluctant to go to school after the
latest school shooting — approach them and invite them to talk.
Talk … and listen. Older tweens hear about
issues related to violence, crime, and war on social media, YouTube, TV, and movies —
not always reliable sources for facts. Try to get a sense of what your kids
know before launching into an explanation, since you don’t want to distress
them further or open up a whole new can of worms. Feel them out by asking,
“What did you hear?,” “Where did you hear that?,”
“What do you know about it?,” and “What do you think about
Be honest and direct. Tweens can find out what
they want to know from different sources, and you want the truth to come from you. It’s
not necessary to go into extreme detail. About a family who held their kids
hostage, you can say, “The kids suffered many different kinds of abuse.
But they were rescued, and their parents were arrested. Often in cases of child
abuse, the parents are very sick with mental illness or other issues.”
in news and media. Talk to kids about how media outlets — including news agencies,
TV shows, movie companies, and game developers — use extreme subjects to get attention, whether it’s in
the form of clicks, viewership, or ticket sales. Share the old
newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and talk about why we may
be drawn to outrageous human behavior. This helps kids think critically about
the relative importance of issues, the words and images used to attract an
audience, and their own media choices.
Explain context and
offer perspective. With your life experience, knowledge, and wisdom, you can
explain the various circumstances around certain issues. This is the process
that gives things meaning and clarity — and it’s important for kids to be able
to make sense of negative and unpleasant things, too. To work through the
powerful emotions that images of beatings, blood, and human suffering can bring
up, kids have to learn to distance themselves from horrific events, understand
the underlying causes, and perhaps get involved in meaningful ways to make things
better, such as diplomacy and education.
Get them talking. High school years can be
tough, as teens start rejecting their parents’ ideas, becoming concerned with
what friends think, and developing their own voice. This separation can be
especially difficult when traumatic events occur or when you know they’re
interacting with mature media. To continue the kinds of conversations you had
when they were younger — and stay connected and relevant — resist the urge to
lecture and instead ask their opinions about things. Encourage them to support
their ideas with legitimate news sources, not just repeat what others have said. Say,
“We may not always agree, but I’m curious to hear what you have to
Accept their sources,
but expand their horizons. Trending topics capture the headlines, but teens
are just as likely to run across provocative subjects, stories, and characters
on TV and in movies — such as the meth-making chemistry teacher of Breaking
Bad — that get users clicking, viewing, and sharing. Give teens the tools to view information critically,
whether they’re scrolling through Snapchat, Netflix or a free-speech site for
extremists such as 4chan and 8chan. Teach them to question what they see by
asking themselves, “Who made this?,” “Why did they make
it?,” “What’s its point of view?,” “What information isn’t
included?,” and “What would my friends think of this?” These
media-literacy questions help teens evaluate information, think beyond the clickbait headline or funny meme, and
look more deeply into a topic.
My older daughter was less than a week old when the
Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest
and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For
days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded
places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If
someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the
notion of safety was ephemeral.
Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to
tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr.
Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who
called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.
I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about
how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in
the aftermath of these shootings.
Understand that a few days of
increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response
to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical
assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of
Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such
upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin
said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down
won’t make them go away.
Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr.
Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from
religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment
because of the white extremist ideology of
many recent mass shooters.
Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,”
Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world
you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to
your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to
the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming
Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether
by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by
helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks
said. The El Paso Times published
recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.
Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events
is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do
hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen
with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but
they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”
It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well,
said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at
the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Don’t dodge the hard
conversations. If you suspect your kids know about
an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H.
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much
information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.
But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things
from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any
misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.
While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”
Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your
sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a
therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and
they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or
not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time
to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr.
The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear
or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting
their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary
care provider, Dr. Douge said.
Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school
lockdown drills, which millions of children
experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All
you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic
events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to
unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or
rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is
“where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”
JOHN GOTTMAN AND BRENÉ BROWN ON RUNNING HEADLONG INTO HEARTBREAK
To a seasoned couples
therapist, the telltale signs of a relationship in crisis are universal. While
every marriage is unique, with distinct memories and stories that capture its
essence, how it looks at its core, the anatomy so-to-speak, adheres to certain
truths. The bones of love, what builds trust (and breaks it), what fosters
connection (and disconnection) we have widely come to understand through the
work of Dr. John Gottman.
Gottman, renowned for
his research on marital stability and demise,
and recognized as one of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the past
quarter-century, has at this stage of his career amassed over 40 years of
research with 3,000 participants. The quality and breadth of his studies are
recognized as some of the finest and most exemplary data we have to date, and
serve as an underpinning for how we understand what makes love work.
Enter Brené Brown, a
self-described researcher, storyteller, and Texan. She’s gritty and funny, and
like Gottman, a formidable researcher. Over the past two decades, Brown has
studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. She’s published five New
York Times #1 bestsellers, and over 40 million people have viewed
her TED Talk on vulnerability. Her passion
for living a wholehearted life is contagious and convincing. Her research has
confirmed a core human need to belong and connect, and at a time when many of
us are feeling the absence of such, she’s tapping a deep well—inspiring a tribe
of the wholehearted, people committed to practicing shame-resilience, Daring Greatly, and embracing vulnerability.
Gottman coined the term
“Masters of marriage” to describe the couples in his research whose
relationships not only endure, but thrive. These are people who cultivate
trust, commitment, responsiveness, and an ability to cherish their partner’s
feelings throughout a lifetime. Brown speaks of the “wholehearted” individuals
who engage their lives from a place of worthiness. They cultivate courage,
compassion, and connection. Both groups, the masters of marriage and the
wholehearted, display a host of traits that we now know are associated with
health and thriving.
Having had the good
fortune to train in both the Gottman Method and The Daring Way® (an
experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown), I cannot help
but wonder, what life would be like if we could take our cues from the masters
of marriage and the wholehearted? How might this shape who we
are as individuals in a partnership? What might the ripple effects be to our
children and society at large if we aspire to love as Gottman and Brown are
The implications of
following in the footsteps of the masters and the wholehearted are huge. The
Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most extensive study of its
kind, has taught us three things. First, that loneliness can kill as surely as
smoking or alcoholism, and that when we are connected, we live longer and
healthier lives. Second, the quality of our relationships matter. It’s not the
number of friends we have, or whether or not we are in a committed relationship
that predicts thriving. Being in a high-conflict marriage is bad for one’s
health. It is worse than divorce. Third, good relationships don’t just protect
our health. They protect our mind. Memory loss and cognitive decline are more
prevalent in lives permeated by conflict and disconnection.
And if that is not
compelling enough, Brown’s research on the implications of shame paints a
similarly grim picture, depicting shame as correlated with loneliness,
depression, suicidality, abuse, trauma, bullying, addiction, and anxiety.
So while love may not
heal all wounds, it is undoubtedly a panacea for preventing them.
Gottman and Brown give us
a map—a macro perspective of the wilderness of our hearts, and the wildness of
love. It’s a rocky path, fraught with challenges and risk. But vulnerability is
inherent in any stance that places courage above comfort. And should we decide
to follow it, the destination it promises to take us to is nothing short of
paradox of trust
Gottman, in his
book The Science of
Trust, astutely asserts that loneliness is (in part) the
inability to trust. And sadly, the failure to trust tends to perpetuate itself.
For when we don’t trust, over time, we become less able to read other people
and deficient in empathy. He states, “Lonely people are caught in a spiral that
keeps them away from others, partly because they withdraw to avoid the
potential hurt that could occur from trusting the wrong person. So they trust
nobody, even the trustworthy.”
According to both
researchers, it’s the small interactions rather than grand gestures that build
trust and break it. “Sliding door moments,” as Gottman calls them, are the
seemingly inconsequential day-to-day interactions we have over breakfast, while
riding in the car, or standing in the kitchen at 9 p.m. Within each act of
communication, there is an opportunity to build a connection. And when we don’t
seize it, an insidious erosion of trust ensues, slowly overtime.
Our relationships do not
die from one swift blow. They die from the thousand tiny cuts that precede it.
But choosing to trust is
all about tolerance for risk, and our histories (both in childhood and with our
partners) can inform how much we are willing to gamble. Brown speaks to the
paradox of trust: we must risk vulnerability in order to build trust, and
simultaneously, it is the building of trust that inspires vulnerability. And
she recommends cultivating a delicate balance, one where we are generous in our
assumptions of others and simultaneously able to set firm boundaries as a means
to afford such generosity—being soft and tough at the same time, no small
our stories write us
According to Gottman, the
final harbinger of a relationship ending is in how couples recall memories and
the stories they tell. Memories, it turns out, are not static. They evolve,
change, and are a living work-in-progress. When a relationship is nearing its
end, at least one person is likely to carry a story inside themselves that no
longer recollects the warm feelings they once had for their partner.
Instead, a new narrative
evolves, maximizing their partner’s negative traits, and quite likely,
minimizing their own. “Self-righteous indignation” as Gottman aptly refers to
it is a subtle form of contempt and is sulfuric acid for love. This story,
laced with blame and bad memories, is the strongest indicator of an impending
breakup or divorce.
But, as Brown cautions,
“We are meaning-making machines wired for survival. Anytime something bad
happens, we scramble to make up a story, and our brain does not care if the
story is right or wrong, and most likely, it is wrong.” She points out that in
research when a story has limited data points, it is a conspiracy, and a lie
told honestly is a confabulation.
In social psychology,
this pre-wired bias is referred to as the fundamental attribution error (FAE).
The FAE speaks to our tendency to believe that others do bad things because
they are bad people, and to ignore evidence to the contrary while
simultaneously having a blind spot that allows us to minimize or overlook what
our behaviors say about our character. In short, we are partial to giving
ourselves a pass while not extending the same generosity to others.
When our minds trick us
into believing we know what our partner’s intentions, feelings, and motives are
we enter a very dark wood—one where we truly can no longer see the forest for
the trees. The ramifications of this are significant because the stories we
tell ourselves dictate how we treat people.
In portraying ourselves
as a hero or victim, we no longer ally with the relationship, but rather, armor
up and see our partner as the enemy. And if memory is malleable, and we’re
prone to spinning conspiracies and confabulations, there is a strong likelihood
that we run the risk of hurting ourselves and those we love in assuming this
tendencies towards mishaps and misperceptions is not easy. It requires a
certain humility, grace, and intentionality. But as Stan Tatkin points out in
his TED talk, Relationships are Hard, “We are mostly
misunderstanding each other much of the time, and if we assume our
communication, memory, and perception is the real truth, that is hubris.”
The wholehearted and
masters of marriage bypass such hubris and navigate the terrain of
relationships differently than those who get lost in the wood. If we want our
relationships and quality of life to thrive, it’s essential we take our cues
from them and cultivate new habits.
emotions (and the suck)
To do so, we must first
expand our emotional repertoire to include a wide range of feelings, not just
our go-to ones. “Emotion-embracing,” as Gottman calls it, is a central building
block for healthy relationships. We are aiming for what Pixar’s Inside Out so
brilliantly depicts: inviting sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and fear all to the
Put simply, Brown
suggests we “embrace the suck,” stating that the wholehearted demonstrate a
capacity to recognize when they’re emotionally ensnared and get curious about
their feelings and perceptions.
Both Gottman and Brown
draw on the Stone Center’s Strategies of Disconnection, which
propose that people respond in one of three ways when hurt: by moving away,
moving toward, or moving against that which feels painful. And what I find
interesting is that while Gottman advocates for turning toward your partner
when injured, and Brown speaks more to leaning into (and getting curious about)
our own uncomfortable emotions, both are emotion-embracing and courageous
stances that emphasize mutuality over individualism.
Unfortunately, most of us
are not taught as children to embrace painful feelings. It’s counterintuitive
and goes against our neurobiological wiring. If we have a traumatic history,
all the more so. And our society by-and-large is an emotion-dismissing culture.
But as Brown cautions, there’s a price to pay when we selectively numb
emotions: when we numb our painful feelings, we also numb our positive ones.
So, if we want the good things in life (and I think most of us want the good
things), then it’s a package deal.
If the most significant
indicator that a relationship has reached a tipping point is a rewritten story
devoid of fond memories, then it stands to reason that a narrative free from
blame, interwoven with curiosity and even goodwill is indicative of love that
will last. Therefore, one of the central tasks of any healthy relationship is
to co-create stories from a lens of “we” versus “me.”
It involves little (and
big) reckonings as Brown calls them, sliding door moments where we pause long
enough to reflect and ask ourselves (and each other), “What is going on right
now?” Together, we cultivate a broader understanding of a disagreement or hurt
feelings, one not possible when left alone in our heads to spin narratives that
defend our most vulnerable parts and simultaneously ensure that we will go to
our grave more swiftly, lonely, and armored.
When I reflect on the
lessons of Gottman and Brown, one concept stands out: we must run headlong into
heartbreak because there are things far worse than having our hearts broken.
Such as the harm we inflict on our loved ones when we disown pain and transmit
it onto them. And the legacy of trauma that ripples into our children’s hearts
and the generations to come—veiling us in a seemingly impermeable barrier to
vulnerability and all the fruits that go with it.
And let us not forget the
Harvard Study of Adult Development and the toll that a conflict-laden life
combined with emotion-dismissing has on our health.
Yes, running headlong
into heartbreak is running directly into vulnerability. It involves
uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But, as Brown reminds us,
vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and
Should we choose this
path, there will be moments (likely many) where we find ourselves facedown in
the dirt because the road to wholeheartedness guarantees we will get our hearts
broken—again and again. But, in choosing to embrace heartbreak, we empower
ourselves to experience the myriad of ways love manifests itself and the beauty
life affords us. In the end, it’s not a question of if we will experience
heartbreak but of how.
THE APOSTLE PAUL: HIS SECRET TO FIGHTING SEXUAL SIN
Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sexual sin. It is a problem that has been around since our ancestors walked east of Eden, and it will be around until the new Jerusalem descends upon us. The good news is that the Bible promises that we can experience foretastes of that coming freedom in the here and now. But how?
The Apostle Paul commands the Christians at Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But how do we do this? If we rip this verse away from the letter, we’re likely to apply it the wrong way, so we need to look closely to understand what Paul is talking about.
1. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Not About “Do More,
philosophy was circulating in the church at Colossae that was championing asceticism:
if you want to remain pure, then separate yourself from the
pleasures of the body that are so often a source of temptation. This philosophy
said if you really want the fullness of divine life within you, then insulate your
But Paul delivers a
crushing blow to this philosophy:
If with Christ you died
to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the
world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not
touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to
human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in
promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they
are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
No value. That
is Paul’s verdict on asceticism. It simply doesn’t work. Yes, there is a grain
of truth in the philosophy—all popular philosophies contain at least some wisdom
in them. If you are tempted to sin sexually then it makes sense to get away
from sexual temptations. This will keep sin at bay—but ultimately the flesh
This false philosophy is
still circulating in the church today. When the best advice we can give
people is better Internet filters, cold showers, more hours in prayer, and
trying harder, we have given into this philosophy that Paul says is of no
This false philosophy
either totally underestimates the power of sin, or it sets the benchmark of
holiness too low. It either doesn’t get just how ingrained sexual sin is
in us, or it thinks that merely getting rid of outward, blatant sexual sin
is the goal. Neither is accurate.
2. Fighting Sexual Sin Starts with a New Identity
Paul offers his readers
another approach to fighting sin, and it starts with these core identity
“With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20)
“You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3)
“You have been raised with Christ” (3:1)
“You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12)
“You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10)
“The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27)
This is where a lot of
modern readers check out. “Don’t give me these abstract theological ideas. I
need something practical,” they think. But for Paul, there was nothing more
practical, nothing more life-changing, than these ideas.
We are united to the
risen Christ by faith. His resurrection life flows in our veins now. The Spirit
of the living Christ lives inside us, so we no longer belong to this world
and the rules it plays by—we belong to Christ and the age to come. In
order to have the power to fight lust, we first have to understand this: we no longer belong to sin. We
belong to God who has accepted us and forgiven us, not because we purified
ourselves first, but because we are united by faith to the Pure One, Jesus
In order to fight lust,
we must understand that we no longer belong to lust.
3. Fighting Sexual Sin Continues by Kindling New
Knowing we are united to
the living Christ, Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ
is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things
that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). The terms Paul
uses here mean to center one’s interests,
focus, and passions on something—to savor something. Now
that God has united us to the risen Christ, we savor that
reality, and this kindles new desires in us that displace a desire for sin.
What are these “things”
above that we should savor?
First, we are to savor Christ himself. This is one of the reasons why Paul spills a lot of ink in this letter describing who Christ is. He is the beloved Son of God (1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:15), creator and sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the one whose blood reconciles us to the Father (1:20), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), and the one seated at God’s right hand (3:1). In him all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (2:3). The fullness of deity dwells in Him (1:19; 2:9).
Second, we are to savor our new position before God. Christ is seated at God’s right hand and we are seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). To be seated at a ruler’s right hand meant to be in the position of greatest authority, honor, and delight. Because Christ is in us, we share in the favor He has with the Father.
Third, we are to savor the hope that someday we will see and experience these realities. Someday, Christ Himself will appear and we will appear with Him in glory (1:4). It is our destiny to be like the holy, pure Son of God. Someday our eyes will see the one who died for us and rose again, the one who is God in the flesh, and God will honor us as his royal children before every creature, every human soul, every angelic being in the universe.
How does this practically
help us to fight sexual sin? The reason why sexual sin can have such a
grip on us is because of its power to define us and what is most
valuable, how sexual pleasure makes us feel about ourselves. Sexual
fantasy, pornography, or pursuing illicit sex makes us feel desired; it makes
us feel valued and validated; it gives us a refuge; it gives us connection; it
can even make us feel powerful. This is why setting our affections on things
above is so important: it gives us a new center to our lives and gives us a
completely new sense of value—not based in our worthiness but based on the love
God has for Christ that overflows to us.
4. Fighting Sexual Sin Is About Fighting For Our
Finally we come to
Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in
you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness,
which is idolatry.”
Paul here is not
endorsing asceticism—something he has already refuted. Asceticism is
about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy, but
mortifying sin is about fighting for the new affections that
God is giving to us.
We can construct helpful boundaries
in our lives that keeps sexual sin out of reach, but we should do so standing
on our identity as God’s beloved children, standing satisfied in Christ and
God’s love. When sexual temptation comes knocking, we can say to it, “No, sin.
That’s not who I am anymore. You do not define what life is to me anymore. You
do not define me anymore. Christ is in me. I am a child of the king, and one
day the whole world will know it.”
5. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Sustained by Relationships that
Remind Us of Our New Identity
“Let the word of Christ
dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts
to God” (Colossians 3:16).
This is the essence of
real accountability in the body of Christ. Yes, accountability involves
confessing our temptations, sins, and the state of our heart, but it also
involves godly encouragement. Accountability is not just about someone
calling you out on your sin, but someone calling you up to
the person you already are in Christ. Accountability is about
surrounding yourself with the kind of Christian friendships that teach and
admonish you, that inspire thankfulness, and that help us unpack all the
wisdom contained in the great mystery that Paul called “Christ in us, the hope
of glory” (1:27).
Accountability is like
stoking the embers of the fire. It does not add energy to the embers. It only
exposes those embers to the air so new reactions can happen. When we engage
in the disciplines of confession, encouragement, and mutual
prayer we expose our souls again to the life-changing gospel,
and God’s power is released again and again.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL (WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE)
Happiness does not start with a relationship, a degree, a job, or money. It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself today.
“I had a date scheduled for last night with this guy I started talking to on a dating app. I waited outside the diner where we agreed to meet for 30 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet. He never showed up. All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my head. I thought maybe he saw me from a distance, didn’t like what he saw, and then bailed.
Just as I was about to leave, one of my old college friends, Jared, who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, walked up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘Carly! It’s great to see you! You look fantastic!’ I almost blew him off because of how I felt inside at the moment. But luckily I pulled myself together to engage in a conversation.
After we talked in that same spot for awhile, he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’ We ended up going into the diner I was supposed to eat at with the no-show date and having an amazing conversation filled with laughter. After dinner he walked me to my car, we exchanged numbers, and he asked me out on a formal date for this Friday night.”
Our Stories Make or Break Us
The story above comes from Carly, one of our recent Think Better, Live Better 2019 attendees (and of course, we’re sharing her story with permission).
Think about how her initial reaction was rooted so heavily in negativity. Her date didn’t show up and she immediately crumbled inside. Now think about the amazing opportunity she would have missed if she had let that negativity endure. And think about how often your negativity gets the best of you.
How often do let your insecurities stop you?
Or, how often do you judge others for their imperfections?
What you need to realize right now is that you have a story about yourself and others (or perhaps a series of stories) that you recite to yourself daily. This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind. Your movie is about who you are and how the world is supposed to be: your tummy is too flabby, your skin is too dark or too pale, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough. And of course, you catch yourself picking out all sorts of imperfections in others, and the world at large, too.
Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are or facing the realities of life—because it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you. It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.
Ready to rewrite the script?
Let’s start by being honest… Sometimes negativity absolutely dominates our better judgment!
So, how do we outsmart our own negative tendencies so we can feel better, behave better, and ultimately live better? There are many ways, but Angel and I often recommend two simple (but not easy) practices:
1. Practice questioning your stories.
You know what they say, don’t believe everything you hear nor everything you read. Don’t believe the gossip columns in every magazine, the doom and gloom predictions from your co-workers, or the “shocking news” that you hear on TV… until you have verified it.
Well, the same concept applies to your inside world—your thoughts.
We all have stories about ourselves and others even if we don’t think of them as stories. Case in point: How often do you pause to logically contemplate what you really think about your relationships, your habits, or your challenges? How often, on the other hand, do you just blurt out whatever fleeting emotion comes to mind—i.e., the pre-recorded movie script you’ve been holding on to—without even thinking straight?
Stories can be short, such as “I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I have intrinsic relationship problems.” And if we were to dig deeper into your own personal version of these stories, I bet you’d be happy to go on and try to explain why the stories you’ve been holding onto are real. Even though the aren’t. They’re just stories.
So the key practice here is to question your stories. For instance, let’s take the writer example. Ask yourself: Why do I think I am not a good writer? What would it look like to be a good writer? Can I describe my current writing in a way that serves me better?
You will be surprised by how often the questioning process helps you emerge with a clearer and more accurate version of your story. Give it a try!
2. Practice running your thoughts through three key filters.
Sometimes you are in a hurry, and not having a great day to boot. On days like this, there’s a mental conditioning exercise I recommend that’s super quick and can help keep your attitude in check…
I’ve been in arguments with my my wife, Angel, in the past and one of the things I certainly regretted was not filtering my words before saying them. At the time of these arguments, I did not have the right tools, except for thinking “Be nice!”, which does nothing for you when you’re feeling the opposite of nice. Some years later I found this simple tool that helped me shift my behavior. Here’s how it works:
Before you utter anything, run your thoughts through three key filters and don’t speak unless you get three resounding “YES” responses:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
For example, let’s say a running thought in your head says that your partner doesn’t care about you, and you are about to shout those words out because he or she didn’t do the last chore you requested. Question that thought first: Is it true that my partner doesn’t care about me? Is it kind for me to say or think this? Is it helpful for me to say or think this?
Remember you can’t take your words back. What’s more, you will never regret behaving in a true, kind and helpful way down the road. So make it a ritual in your life in the days and weeks ahead.
Now, it’s your turn…
Leverage the two practices above to gradually rewrite the script of your mental movie. Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it. Seriously! Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…” or “My spouse deserves the silent treatment…”), flip the script and replace those lines with truer, kinder and more helpful ones. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it. Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.
And keep in mind that various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script and your better judgment—comments from family, news anchors, social media posts… lots of things other people say and do. When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it. Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them difficult and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like an obnoxious little dog barking in the distance) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
So, what was your biggest takeaway from this short article?