The story went like this.
One day, Thomas Edison was sent home from school with a note to his mother. With tears in her eyes, his mother read the note out loud:
‘Your son is a genius. The School is too small for him and we don’t have enough good teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.’
Many years later when his mother died and Edison had become one of the greatest inventors of the century, he found a note among his mother’s papers. It was the note from the school which said:
‘Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school anymore.’
Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary: ‘Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.’
This morning I was reading a book about tapping (EFT) by Jessica Ortner. Coincidentally (or not), the first thing I read was about a study conducted by cognitive neuroscientist Sara Bengtsson which discovered a link between expectations and performance.
The study was conducted with college students who were expected to pass some tests. One group was primed with affirmative messages like, ‘intelligent’, ‘clever’ and ‘smart’. The other group got negative messages like ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’. The group that was primed with positive messages performed much better. More importantly, this group’s brain response to mistakes was different: the part of the brain which is responsible for self-reflection and recollection showed increased activity. In contrast, there was no increase in brain activity in students who got negative messages prior to the test.
What we tell our children is incredibly important. We can raise a genius or imbue a low self-esteem that holds them back later in life. Both of these stories point in that direction.
But to me, it’s equally important what we tell ourselves. Our negative self-talk can not only undermine our own self-worth, but also set an example to our children, because they often do as we do, not as we say.
So, here’s an invitation to examine your self-talk today. My test for negative self-talk is simple: would you talk to your child like that? If not, don’t beat yourself up – it only perpetuates this situation. Instead, see whether there is a way in which you could soothe your inner child today.