SNAP to It!

Mark turned 15, and together we’re working hard to help him gain as much independence as he possibly can. But that means intentionally doing things that aren’t easy. It means forcing him out of his comfort zone on purpose. So, I did what any good parent would: I bribed him.

“Mark, why don’t you go to the candy aisle and pick out a treat? I’ll meet you over there,” I said as I briefly rummaged through the clearance bin at the back of the store.

“No,” he said.

I immediately stopped what I was doing to look him straight in the eye.

“Why?” I asked. “You love M&Ms.”

“I not trust myself.”

And there you have it. How Mark was feeling in that moment trumped even his greatest desire: milk chocolate. Never mind that he was fully capable of doing it. His own thoughts and worries stood firmly between him and aisle 13.

“Mark, I know you can do it. You know this store. You know which aisle it is. You know you don’t even have to walk back. I’ll meet you there,” I said. “I think it’s really important you do this.”

And so he did. I watched as he walked away with clenched, shaking fists, but he did it. And believe me when I say that that candy has never tasted better to him.

But this happens to each of us, too. Our feelings can be so strong and overwhelming that we listen to them rather than remember what’s true and factual. Avoid letting what you don’t know drowned out what you do.

The next time you’re left feeling like you don’t know what to do or doubt if you can actually accomplish something, intentionally remind yourself of everything you know and all you’ve already done successfully in the past. You know and can do a lot! Intentionally remind yourself of this. Remember this. Then, let history repeat itself.

Here’s a little acronym that I used as classroom teacher to help my students cope with fear and apprehension. And, honestly, use it myself to gain grit when I need it. I hope it helps you, too.

SStop your brain: Stop your thoughts in their tracks.

If you feel like your thoughts and worries are running away with you, you’re probably right. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. You get to choose who is in control of your own inner dialogue. Either you can let your thoughts continue to run around completely unchecked, or you can intentionally pick and choose the ones you’ll allow to stick around. It can be helpful to think of your mind as a physical room. Would you allow trash to pile up and clutter up the space? Or would you take it out and instead choose to fill the room with useful, beautiful things? Sure, negative and challenging thoughts will always creep in. That’s completely natural. But you get to choose whether they take up permanent residence or not.

The process of stopping your own thoughts is a skill—and while difficult at first, it gets much easier with practice. Start by identifying something specific you can do or say to yourself when a challenging thought or worry comes to mind. Honestly, it’s not about what you do or what you think at that moment. It’s not even about ignoring the thought that’s crept in uninvited. It’s just about intentionally interrupting the intrusive thought before it has time to take root and grow.

Sometimes, I change what I’m looking at, walk to another room, or stand up if I’m sitting down. Another thing that works for me includes interjecting a completely irrelevant thought. It might be something that I need to remember that’s not related to the worry that’s suddenly worked its way into my head. It could be a funny thing one of my kids recently said. It might be something I’m looking forward to later. The beauty of this technique is that it can literally be anything. There’s no “wrong” thought here because any thought that effectively stops the intrusive one from growing is the “right” one.

NNothing but nice: Replace all your negative thoughts with only positive ones.

Sure, you’ve stopped your brain. You’ve successfully planted a random thought or memory. But now what? Now, you take a moment to intentionally think of something good, something soothing, something nice.

I don’t garden. I hate dirt. I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies. But I can’t deny that it’s a good analogy. So, here goes…

Imagine you’re utterly dependent on a garden in your backyard for food. You’ve got goals, big goals! You’ve planted seeds for all your favorite fruits and veggies—maybe even some you don’t like, but you know are good for you. (Look at you! You’re adulting!) But then, things start to go awry.

Other sprouts start popping up everywhere. There are suddenly plants where you never intended, plants you didn’t put there and don’t want. And these rogue little invaders are taking up valuable real estate in your patch. Even worse, they don’t stay little for long. Instead, they grow, multiply, and begin to utterly take over—so much so that you start to lose the ability to find the seedlings you actually planted. Talk about a big ol’ mess.

The space between our ears is the same. And no, this isn’t an exaggeration. Just like a garden requires constant, intentional tending, so does our mental real estate.

When a rogue worry or negative thought sprouts up, stop it. But don’t stop there. Instead, counter it with something positive, something uplifting. To put it another way, fill your mental garden with such beautiful, affirming thoughts that there’s simply no room or space for any other kind. Doing this will help you better counter the crap that the world will throw your way.

AAll that you know: You know a lot! It may just not feel like it right now. Avoid letting your feelings lie to you.

Remember that nagging little worry that’s suddenly crept in? You know, the one that had you frozen to the spot? Now that you’ve successfully taken back control of your inner dialogue and planted a few much more positive thoughts of your own, it’s time to consider the truth—what’s real, not necessarily how you feel.

Here’s the thing: All our feelings are valid. We really, truly feel them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trustworthy.

PPut it to use: You may not have all the answers. But you know a great deal—including how and where to find more help when you need it. Remember that. Then, move forward.

There may be nothing left but to do it. But that’s often the most challenging part, the actual stepping out, making ourselves even more vulnerable when we’re already on shaky ground inside our own thoughts. Ugh.

There’s simply no way around it: doing new things means becoming okay with being uncomfortable. We don’t have to enjoy it. We don’t even have to look forward to it. It’s just fact.

Thankfully, though, we can use several tactics and strategies to help ease ourselves through the discomfort. One of the best is to remember it’s normal and to be expected. Misery loves company. And it can help to remember that no one is good at everything. Everyone has to travel through the discomfort of getting from point A to point B. To put it yet another way, inexperience isn’t a liability. So, take the pressure off yourself and know that how you feel is exactly how you’re supposed to feel.

Then, map it out. Think about the various steps and decisions that will be needed. In your mind’s eye, imagine yourself working through the process. And don’t forget to make a mental note of all the skills and knowledge you’ll be taking with you, too. You may be entering uncharted territory, but you’re certainly not going ill-equipped. You’re capable of so many things. You can do this, too. You just haven’t done it before now.

(Visit the Resources page to download a free SNAP printable.)

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