You Can't Do That (and the super-helpful use of negative messaging)

10:14 AM

My grandson Finn with his block-enhanced car track adventure

You’re dreaming about something you want to create, aren’t you?
An obstacle you’re hoping to overcome? A road trip, a new hobby or perhaps, a new adventure into an entirely as-yet-unexplored social circle?
It hit you out of the blue, in some rare elusive moment when you happened to stumble into enough space for quiet contemplation when suddenly, you were able to imagine. To dream. To wish. Maybe even entertain where to begin.
And if you’re anything like me, the next phrase that enters your mind is,
Where does it come from, the stream-of-consciousness-internal-debate that challenges our desires before we can even take the very first step onto a new path?
A counselor I worked with in my late 30s encouraged me to try to differentiate between the voices in my mind, identifying the (intimidated) inner child’s voice and the (limiting) parent voice from my authentic adult voice.
The struggle is real.
Approximately, 25 years later, I think I’m starting to get it.
I’m pretty sure I started to create these negative messages as a little one, trying to avoid criticism or even catastrophes, not unlike any other little girl who may be trying to please her parents while simultaneously trying to stay out of trouble.
In my case, avoiding corporal punishment was a huge motivator as it was always a possibility.
My mom had four children to manage, all born within three and a half years. It became an imperative to manage time, productivity and even our states of mind and emotions, but mostly, it was important to her to maintain a very disciplined environment.
Trying to explain her disciplinary stance as a parent, Mama later told me to imagine four daughters, toddlers, moving toward a crosswalk, watching one heading north when the other runs south!
It was her intention to have us so highly tuned that we would stop in our tracks if she called out to us. She also had a killer whistle that carried the whole length of a long Beverly Hills block, and she wasn’t afraid to use it. Her theory? With four kids going in different directions, we would have to be trained to stop on a dime when told to.
We learned.
Although sadly, my mother didn’t pass her time management skills down to me, I did end up honing the controlling art of negative ideation, with finely tuned skills geared toward imagining what could possibly go wrong in order to try and avoid it.
My own (messy) style of parenting was heavily focused on protecting my children, with a chorus of You Can’t Do That(s) followed up with a litany of reasons a given idea could go terribly wrong. I was an expert visualizer of potential negative repercussions.
Even later as a teacher, I struggled with over-controlling the products I expected from students, attempting to take them all the way through the writing process until an essay was so thoroughly massaged, it was almost unoriginal. Although some of my kiddos, the hard-working, self-motivated ones appreciated my determination, I now suspect many of them just wanted to be allowed do their best and move on.
In retrospect, those students deserved to discover what worked and what didn’t work in their own writing process without me trying to overprotect them from failure.
After all, failure is a gift, a teacher, a treasure box of learning.
Do you know anyone who would ever choose to dive off a diving board if every step he took, somebody on the sidelines was highlighting all of the ways he might fall into a face-plant, or humiliate himself?
I had an epiphany a couple of months ago while observing my grandson and his father engaged in some casual play using a car track enhanced with some really big building blocks. Little Finn is a born creative and, like most children three and under, limits just aren’t exactly in the forefront of his mind.
Finn started to build a track with his battery operated cars that light up, imagining tunnels and block towers all around; it looked like a potential disaster, as far as I was concerned. I could see where this was going because of my negative-imagination-superpower, so I was about to step in and save the day when I realized I should just let Finn’s Papa handle it.
His father, Daniel, enthusiastically said,
Finn, what a good idea! What do you think might happen?

That was it.
Open ended possibilities.
Unlimited potential for success or failure.
Of course, the neon super-block track was a huge success, with some treasure-box lessons built in, and a hundred percent worth the effort.
Like I said, I’m still learning, and my greatest teacher is a three year old.

Copyright © 2018 Laury Boone Browning

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