I talk a lot about thoughts, feelings and actions in my work with early childhood educators, the connection between what we think and how this eventually leads to the results we have. When we are taking full responsibility for the thoughts, feelings and actions we take then we empower ourselves to create the results we want in our lives. So, how can we do this and care for our community if our results are created by our own thoughts? If our own thoughts create our feelings, how do other people affect us on our journey to loving ourselves and creating a self-care practice that enhances our wellbeing? Do we have to care for our community and ourselves separately?
The concept of our thoughts creating our feelings is sometimes lost on people and they don’t even realise just what they have in their control. They think that what their husband or mother just said to them is the cause of their own suffering. Or if they’re in the classroom and a child knocks down another child’s tower, the first child is now upset and it must be the other child’s fault. We inadvertently teach children to take responsibility for other’s feelings by saying things like, “You made him cry. Say sorry.” or “Look what you did! She is really upset because of what you did.” We might not realise that by saying phrases like this, we are teaching children (and reinforcing it in ourselves) that they have the power to control how another person thinks, feels and acts. Is that what we really believe? That we can control others? Do you think you can therefore be controlled by others? Is that an empowering thought you want to keep?
Have you ever felt mad even when someone has said they are sorry? That’s because their actions don’t cause your feelings; your thoughts do. Their actions are just circumstances in the world that exist until you have a thought about them. When someone brings you flowers and apologises for some actions they took that you felt upset about, you might have a new thought pop up like “They are trying to make me feel better” or “They are expressing their disappointment in their actions and want to change.” These are the thoughts that then might change how you feel about someone. But the action of buying you flowers and apologising doesn’t really change anything – that’s just something that has happened, an action that someone has taken based on their own thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t create a feeling in you until you have a thought about it.
Have you ever worked somewhere and felt like nobody liked you? Like you weren’t respected or cared about? That’s probably because other people were taking actions that you had negative thoughts about. If you have a co-teacher or a boss who is taking actions that go against your values, you are more likely to think negative thoughts about them and potentially about yourself if they are sharing their negative thoughts with you. You might not have anyone else to offer you any new thoughts, so you start to believe the negative words they say about you. You start to believe that maybe you are not doing your job ‘right’ or ‘well enough’. You might start to question your own actions and second guess yourself – even if you have some evidence that you are doing great work and your colleagues think you’re awesome! Those sneaky negative self-talk patterns are so powerful when we are in an environment that doesn’t create a sense of security, mutual respect and trust. It’s really comes down to simple maths – when X amount of people take X amount of positive actions, you are more likely to feel more positive feelings because you have a greater chance of creating more positive thoughts that drive those feelings.
If these environments cannot be changed (for whatever reasons e.g. socioeconomic status. systems of white supremacy or the patriarchy, inadequate access to healthcare etc), it can be hard to find a way out. It is hard to find the thought that will drive the action of you leaving an abusive partner or toxic workplace and looking after yourself if you have to jump through extra hoops of systemic oppression. There is always a danger that victim blaming can occur and we need to make sure that when we are taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings that we are recognising that systems or abusers are responsible for creating environments that make it difficult for us to be in. The interesting thing is that some studies have shown that some people can experience post-traumatic growth – using experiences from the past to create positive meaning and new understandings about their world. I have worked in settings where I had a lot of negative thoughts – about my colleagues, about management and about myself and my own competency. I know what it’s like to work in a building where your head is full of negativity. I know what it’s like to work in a building where your values are challenged daily. I am also aware of my privelege as a middle-class white woman who was able to quit her job and have financial and mental health support already in place. Not everyone has this – especially not people who work in the early childhood field. But all is not lost because you can learn the strategies and tools you need to help manage your mind, no matter your circumstances. And sometimes that includes asking for help and having another person’s brain with you to help think things through.
Sometimes our wellbeing and mental health has suffered so much from the persistent negative self-talk soundtrack playing in our minds that a change of scenery, like leaving a job, can give some immediate relief. Making the decision to leave a job, or getting help from a friend to move out of an abusive relationship, or hiring a therapist to work through some issues requires a great amount of self-love and strength. Believing that you are more important and worthy of care than anyone else can feel very selfish. However, as I have said before, your brain always go with you no matter what. You may still have negative thoughts and feelings about people and events even though you are not in the thick of it anymore. This is why self-care is called self-care – because at the end of the day YOU are the only one who can look after yourself. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plug into our community when we can – family members, friends, relationships, work colleagues, admin, therapists, coaches and medical care providers can all offer us help. They offer us new thoughts to think that create different feelings in our bodies. Those feelings drive new actions which cause us to take better care of ourselves. That’s why self-care is not selfish – it’s vitally important so we can thrive, not just survive. And if you are feeling better about yourself, you are more likely to be able to be that community support for someone else. Helping yourself is ENOUGH of a reason to practice self-care. You don’t have to sprinkle it with a whole host of reasons that end up benefiting other people. Empowering yourself by looking at your own thoughts can help you create new ones, no matter what you might be experiencing.
The biggest lesson here is that community care – looking out for one another, taking care of one another, considering other people’s thoughts and feelings – IS actually really important. What if self-care meant we were building up strength in ourselves in order to let others into our lives? What if self-care meant we were contributing to ourselves in such a powerful way that we could then share with the world the things we learned? What could you do to increase your own self-care that would teach you something? What could you learn about yourself that you can share with others to help them learn about themselves – their needs, their desires, their fears? I know for me personally, when I take better care of myself I have more bandwidth to share myself with others in a way that respects myself and the things I hold dear to my heart.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The old story is that we put ourselves last because we spend all day caring for children, then we go home and care for our family and then at the weekend we care for our friends and other relationships. The new story I want to help you write is that you care for yourself FIRST, so you can not only practice self-love but be a model to others as to how we manage our own minds so we show up in the world in alignment with our values and beliefs. When you practice taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, you can choose new ones in an active way that create new results in your life. You can also reduce your own suffering by allowing people to take responsibility for theirs too. If you want a world where you have autonomy, then you have to learn to accept that other people have it too.
Want to explore what’s going on in your head when it comes to self-care? Want to have someone help you create a self-care wellbeing plan? Want to use the model I use to help work through your thoughts, feelings and actions? Work with me 1:1 with my Curiosity Coaching package. Want to share this concept of exploring your own thoughts with your teaching team so they can create better relationships with each other? Hire me for well-being and self-care trainings or 1:1 staff coaching here.
p.s. in April I am hosting a FREE accountability program in my Facebook group. If you have something you are working on and would like an accountability buddy, hop on over to the group and we will help you reach your goals for April!
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