Think three positives
This is the authors' favourite exercise. It works time after time. It requires little equipment other than a diary and a pen. Most young people get through most days getting most things right. They can, if they reflected diligently, see that they have completed most of them perfectly well. Mostly they don't.
Mostly however, when they get to the end of the day and ask themselves “how did things go?” they default to thinking about what went wrong. That's not necessarily a bad thing to do—we have to confront our mistakes and problems. However if they spend every day thinking about what went wrong they can easily develop the feeling that they aren't doing terrible well.
A useful and highly effective activity is to get the young person to write down at the end of each day (or some suitable time) a reminder of,
say, three things that have gone well for them. This reminds them that they do get some things right and doing this repeatedly restores a sense of balance—“I make mistakes but I mostly get it right”.
It is also a perfect exercise with which parents can engage with their children. The propensity for negative thought can often be attributed to lack of positive, or overly critical, comment from parents when their children are in their formative years.
These are short statements or phrases that mean something to you. When subjected to stress, pressure, or challenge their use can enable you to adopt a more positive approach. Affirmations are essentially a way of saying to yourself “I can do it!”.
One useful way of assessing impact is to ask the young person to assess their mood after using these affirmations. Do they feel more positive after using these sentences or phrases? If asked to do something they would consider challenging, do they know feel more positive about attempting it.
Examples of affirmations include:
• I am a calm, methodical, and efficient student
• I can make a difference
• I can do things that stretch me
• I work well under pressure
• I enjoy doing my coursework
• I love that feeling when I deliver an assignment
• I enjoy being calm when others around me are not.
To make affirmations effective they should:
Be made in the present tense. Affirmations need to be stated in the “now”. There is a temptation to make affirmations in the future sense—describing what you will do. “I am …” works much better
than “I will …” because the subconscious recognises “I am” as something being done now, not in the future.
1. Have an emotional reward. Affirmations that are not personal to you won't work very well for you. So they should be expressed in the first person. Again this helps the subconscious mind recognise that this is something it is supposed to go to work on. Affirmations should begin with “I” or “my” instead of “you”.
2. Be positively phrased. Affirmations rarely work when expressed as a negative. The mind isn't good at recognising the concept of “not”. Its use can inadvertently reinforce the behaviour you are seeking to change.
Affirmations work because it is broadly equivalent to someone else telling you that “you can do it”. If you work with a coach or mentor who consistently reinforces your ability to do something, you will probably come to believe that it is so. You are helping a young person create that person “in their head” who is doing exactly the same thing.
What will I do tomorrow?
At the end of each day, encourage the young person to identify one, two, or three things that they are very confident they can accomplish the next day. The fewer the better—they need a virtual guarantee of success. The tasks must be achievable.
This operates by reinforcing/applying the old adage “success breeds success”. Most people like the sense of winning and it banishes the sense of failure like nothing else.
Once a more positive mindset is achieved they will be moved to take on more challenging tasks.