By: Jalynn Johnson, CSW
Our mind is such a powerful tool! Have you ever noticed that what you think about influences how you feel? Many times we fall victim to believing that we have no control over how we think and feel. We sometimes also think that how we feel defines us, that it actually IS us rather than something we’re just FEELING and EXPERIENCING. We can lose sight of who we truly are and see ourselves from a very narrow perspective. The purpose of this article is to help empower us by giving us a tool to take control of our thoughts and feelings, remember who we are, and be in charge of what we choose to focus on in our everyday experiences.
Dan Siegel is a well-known researcher and author about child brain development and we are major fans of him here at The Green House Center. One of his books, “The Whole Brained Child” has excellent resources on how to help kiddos face life from a whole-brained perspective, meaning a perspective that allows them to make the best choices possible while acknowledging their emotions and needs. In his book he presents a skill called mindsight. Mindsight is a tool to help you understand your way of thinking. In my work I have found this tool particularly helpful for kiddos who have fears, anxiety, and who have a perfectionistic attitude. In the book this skill is catered to kids, but I am continually learning that what is effective for kids is also effective for adults!
Dan Siegel presents a great imagery of our mind being like a bicycle wheel. There is the hub, which is at the center, and then there are the spokes that go from the hub to the outer rim which holds the tire in place. To apply this to our minds, Dan Siegel gives these parts of the bicycle the following definitions:
-Hub: A place where we are aware of all that is happening AROUND and WITHIN us, it is the place where we make our best decisions and see all parts of ourselves.
-Rim: Anything we pay attention to, focus on, or become aware of, the different parts of ourselves
This wheel helps us to see all that is going on in our mind and allows us to notice which points of the rim we are paying the most attention to. At times we expend a lot of energy just focusing on certain points of the rim, such as our emotions or perceptions, and soon we begin to feel like only those certain points of the rim define us and we lose sight of all the other points of the rim. That’s when we need to go back to the hub which allows us to become open, aware, and notice all that is going around us. We can then remember the totality of our being, everything that we’re defined by, and see our experience and ourselves more clearly. We can go back to the hub by first validating our child’s experience and then coaching them to go back to the hub through mindfulness activities such as deep breathing or a guided meditation.
Let me give an example! Let’s say you have a 9-year-old daughter who struggles with social anxiety. According to this wheel, she has anxiety because she chooses (whether aware or unaware) to focus on a set of anxiety-producing rim points. These rim points have started to dominant the other more positive and adaptive rim points, and she is beginning to define herself by those points. For example, the points of her rim could be: My stomach hurts, I always have a good time, People sometimes laugh at me, My parents support me, I love being with my friends, I feel alone, etc. When she’s about to go to a birthday party, she is probably focusing on the anxiety producing rim points: my stomach hurts, people sometimes laugh at me, I feel alone. No wonder she’s nervous! These rim points have become her reality. So, as the parent, you help your daughter make her wheel! You sit down with her and draw the wheel out, labeling the rim points so she can see them in front of her. You can validate the feeling of being nervous, help her go back to her hub, and then guide her to choose a different rim point to focus on. Sounds simple, right?!
As with all mental health interventions this takes consistent practice! Results may not be seen immediately, and I’m giving you permission to be okay with that. Initially, parents have the responsibility to encourage their child to try interventions, to do them together, so that the child learns and starts to form habits. As the practice becomes more consistent the child will know that they can do it on their own. You as the parent can show your faith and trust in an intervention, and that will rub off on the child. As you learn things and work at them together, your attachment with your child will be strengthened and it will contribute to filling the need that every child has, which is to feel safe, like they belong, and that they are worth it.
The thing I enjoy most about this technique is that it empowers us and reminds us that we have the ability to choose! We really can be in charge of what we focus on and spend our energy on. At any given point we can come back to the hub, become aware, and choose to focus on something else and not stay miserable. We have the power!