PST 75 - Unicorn Decision Process

Nov 24, 2022
Allie Irwin
PST 75 - Unicorn Decision Process

…Welcome to the parenting successful teens. The podcast that cuts through the overwhelm and stress of this face and offers parents simple practical cognitive science-based strategies for keeping their teens on track Join master coach in real life Mom Ellie Irwin to talk about real teens real problems and the skills it takes to raise successful adults. Welcome my friends. I'm so excited to be bringing you this episode of parenting successful teens. Because we're diving into a subject familiar to many of us. Worry. I picked this topic for a couple of reasons. The first is because I want you to get some relief right away. Lot of moms I talked to tell me that they're pretty much worried about their kids all the time. And that used to be me. So I know how terrible that feels And I want you to get some relief today…The second reason is that when we're worried we're not the best version of our. It's kind of like that Snickers commercial. You're not you when you're hungry. Well you're also not you when you're worried. You're not the parent You want to be…The third reason is that reducing the level of anxiety that you feel will make all of the other skills we're going to talk about on this podcast. Easier to learn and more effective. So how much do you think you worry? Probably quite a bit. And it makes sense. As parents we feel like we have a lot of reasons to worry. There's a whole spectrum of concerns from little things like sketchy personal hygiene. To bigger things like grades that count now. Sat scores pain for college under age drinking drugs. Maybe some of those worries sound familiar and I bet you've got your own to share. A recent study showed that six in 10 parents worry more about their child as a teenager than they did when their child was a baby. Yikes…So back in the days when I was worrying all the time. I was in good company because all of my friends were worried too. We go to book club and along with our bottle of wine, I bring my worry about volleyball tryouts. My friend would bring cheese dip and her worries about finding a good math tutor. We thought we were supporting each other, but now I can see that along with venting we were freaking each other out…But if you'd asked me before I discovered this work why worried so much I would have defended my worry as necessary. I would have said things like, because that's what being a mom is or because there's so many dangers in today's world, I would have said that worry was unavoidable. And I would have said that where he was useful though. by worrying I was spotting dangers and protecting my family. But now I think differently. When I discovered the coaching work that I now practice I began to understand how all that worry was actually hurting my family. And I began to understand what to do instead. The actually kept my kids safer and on the right path. And only by quitting the habit of worry or at least dramatically reducing it was that able to relax and enjoy being a parent again. So let's talk about where worry comes from, because it's not where you think or there wouldn't be much point to this podcast. To do this We need to talk just a little bit about how your brain works. If you aren't a fellow science nerd or you feel like you've heard this all before just stay with me I promise to keep it short and show you why it's important…Now there are several explanations of the human brain but the one that I'm going to use. For the purposes of explaining worry is that our human brains have essentially three layers. And all three layers are trying to help us It's their job to help us. And when we understand what that job is we can understand. And work with our brain instead of fighting it. The first layer is the oldest. It evolved in a time when we were worried about getting eaten by lions. This is the level of our brain That's focused on survival. This is where the fight or flight response is in charge. That layer of our brain is rigid and compulsive because its job is to keep you alive. We wouldn't be here without that layer of the brain. It gives you simple, urgent instructions. See danger. Rotten…The oldest layer of our brains job is to constantly be scanning the environment for danger. That was the part of my brain that was listening closely at book club for potential dangers. And the thing is this part of our brain sees the lurking lion and your son being in the wrong sat prep class as the same threat level. Because this layer of the brain only has a one job. See threat respond. And when you're freaking out with your own kids this is most likely the level you're operating from the survival level. That's why it feels so urgent. Even if you're telling yourself this is no big deal. When you're feeling that urgency it's probably coming from this layer of the brain…The second level of our brain is the emotional level. This is the level that feels all of our emotions and store. our memories. You know how you remember super happy things or super scary things more than you remember regular moments. That's because this level of your brain is linking together The event in this strong emotion you felt. And then playing them on a loop in your brain. This is the part of our brain that is awake and Googling at four in the morning after book club. It takes all of the stories you heard and your thoughts about those stories and ties it to the emotion of fear. And then plays those stories on repeat in your brain. Okay That's why he can't sleep. And. Playing them on repeat then triggers that that first level that fight or flight that survival level Okay So that's how those two levels interact. And together some scientists call that the low road. Okay Because it's the the oldest region of. brain. That's when the emotional part of our brain…and the survival part of our brain linked together. The third level of the brain is the newest and it's responsible for higher level flexible creative Long-term thinking. This is the part of the brain that plans spring break. Well there's still hotel rooms available and remembers to schedule sports physicals. But it's also the part of the brain that we accidentally use against ourselves and create worry. And let me show you how with a quick example. So you maybe have a dream of your son going to a certain school. His grades are good And you think he may even have a chance for some scholarship money. So you're in the car picking your son up from school He hops in and you ask him how his math test one. And he tells you he got a C…The thinking. of your brain starts to use its creative power to imagine his future and plan ahead for what that scene means. You start thinking oh he's probably going to get a bad grade in pre-calc. Which means he won't get into AP calc, which means he won't have what he needs to get amazing sat scores or into a good college or a good job. And before you've even left the parking lot you've gone from one Sianna test to your son living in your basement forever…So. Those thoughts then trigger the emotional level of your brain to start pumping stress hormones Okay You're starting to feel fearful of what that C might mean. And those stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are pumping through your veins causing you to feel panicky about his future. And bam, the survival part of your. senses a threat. And puts you in fight or flight mode. And this all happens in an instant. Before you're even out of the school parking circle…And it all starts with the thoughts you're having about the C…How do I know that it's your thoughts about the sea that are causing you to freak out? Because someone else could have a completely different reaction to that same grade. My daughter tutored a student last year that was failing all of his classes when they started working together. And when he started getting CS on his tests, his mom was excited. Her prefrontal cortex was imagining a very different story. She was imagining that her son wouldn't have to go to summer school this year and could maybe get a job and pay for his own pizza. She wasn't freaking out She was feeling happy. So it wasn't the grade that was causing our emotion. The grade wasn't causing our freak out any more than the grade was causing the other mom's happiness. The grade is just a grade. It's our thoughts about the grade that we're creating both the physical and emotional feelings of stress…So. If our thoughts are causing the problem, then they can also be the solution…Now you may be thinking okay fine It's my thoughts but I still don't want my son to get a C I mean this kid is smart and I want him to go to a good school. Good schools want A's and so do I. I hear you. I know you want him to get A's. But stay with me for a second. How effective was the conversation you had when you were upset about his grades? Did that conversation work? Did it motivate him to go home and pull out his books and start applying himself. Or DD just stew in silence all the way home while he texted his friends about what an unreasonable bitch you were being. Not speaking from experience or anything…So what you want to do. Is you want to shift your perspective? Not because you don't care about his future but because you do. And because being less freaked out gives you the best shot at helping him do better in school. Because when we use our brains to think thoughts that help us stay calm and connected and loving, we act more calm connected and loving. And when you're feeling that way, you talk to your kids completely differently. And you talk to them in ways that make it easier for you to listen and hear the whole story. You know maybe he's upset. Maybe he's more upset than you are and he just needs you to listen so he can get it out. Maybe he knows exactly what to do next and you don't even need to get involved. And giving him that freedom to solve his own problem will build his personal responsibility. Or maybe he needs help coming up with a next step. And you can brainstorm together. But that won't happen if he's afraid to tell you because he knows you're going to freak out. Or if he tells you and you freak out and he quits listening. Okay That freak out is creating a giant roadblock. Doesn't help your son And like I said it may even motivate him to hide his grades…So in order to prevent the freak out and shift our thinking I have a three step process. Step one. Notice when you're freaking out. Okay We can't shift reactions if we don't notice them in the moment. So. we have to begin to notice what freaking out feels like in our own body. That is the fastest indicator to notice that our thoughts are starting to run away is when we feel the physical symptoms of stress. So you want to take a second. And notice with the physical experience of worry feels like in your own body. So take a minute right now and remember a time that you were worried. Maybe even today you were running late for something important. Okay put yourself back in that time. And and try to remember what that felt like. Was your heart racing did you feel hot Did you have tightness in your in your shoulders? Describe those sensations like you're talking to your doctor. Describing the physical sensations actually has two benefits. One it's kind of an early warning system If if you train yourself to notice them, Uh before you say something you can kind of had that off at the past. The second thing is noticing and describing your physical sensations is a way of distracting your mind. And then breaking the freakout thought loop. Okay. So while you're freaking out you know I described that situation where you start thinking about what this grade means for his pre-calc grade and the next grade and missing the class And I joined Whelan as Haiti. If you start describing your physical symptoms. Then your brain does that instead of getting on that runaway thought train gives your brain something to focus on rather than just thinking the worrying thought over and over. And when people talk about feeling their feelings this is actually what they're talking about doing. They're talking about feeling the physical sensations of their feelings. Most warriors. Think that feeling their feelings is thinking about their feelings and that just makes them worry more because that limbic system just keeps the meaning in that thought with the emotion. And then playing on a loop. So you want to interrupt that process and feel your feelings. So the next time you're freaking out this is step one Describe your physical sensations. And it helps to take some deep breaths while you're doing this. When we are upset we typically breathe more shallowly. So taking some deep breaths during this step will calm our physical bodies down It's a cue to our bodies that we want to feel more relaxed. Okay. So you keep doing this until your body feels calmer. Your breaths get deeper Your shoulders begin to relax Your heart stops racing. When you experienced that then you can move to step two. Step two is to ask yourself why. you're thinking That's worrying you. This step is pretty easy because those thoughts are probably playing on a loop. But you have to get underneath the thought I'm worrying He has a C there's a thought underneath it a deeper thought. And that thought is about what you're making the C mean. So you want to ask yourself a question Like, why is this a problem? That will help you excavate the thought. I'm worried that if he doesn't get better grades he won't get into a good school. I'm worried that I'll never be successful. And when you have that thought, when you're clear on what it is that's triggering the freakout. You can move to step three. Step three is to move towards better feeling thoughts. We're looking for thoughts that literally make us feel better make us feel less worried less freaked out. And. There's two criteria for getting this step to. And this is the part. That most of the like think positive stuff where it goes awry. Because the first criteria is that you're looking for a thought that you already believe. So if you're thinking that your son plays way too many video games and is not spending enough time doing his precalc homework, and then he gets a C you're not going to believe a thought like my son is a great student. That's going to feel like a lie and you are way too smart to be lying to yourself that won't help at all. And actually research shows that if you try to believe a thought that you don't actually believe that it makes things worse. But that's okay because there's actually a lot of thoughts that are available to you that you already believe that will make you feel better. And the whole trick is just to find one. And a couple example Thoughts are it's just one grade. There's plenty of time to bring his grades back up. Or this is a great opportunity to work on his study skills. Just keep going until you find a thought that you already believe and it makes you feel better. If you try in a thought and you still feel terrible just keep going I promise you there is a thought available to you that you already believe. And makes you feel better. And if you're feeling terrible. If you're thinking my son is failing high school. Sometimes feeling better is is just feeling neutral. You don't have to find a thought that gets you all the way to happy. Sometimes feeling better is just moving from. Freaked out. To neutral…from angry. To calm. Okay. Uh another place that sometimes the thing positive people go wrong is they they try to take you from angry to happy. And even just going from angry to neutral will be an improvement. The second part of step three is to choose to think that better feeling thought on purpose. Every time that scary thought or frustrating thought comes up you have to stop thinking it. And then insert the better feeling thought on purpose. This is a process, but I promise you it's worth it. Because once we understand that our it's our thinking that's causing our freak out. And use this process to shift that thinking, then the power to feel better is back in our hands and feeling better gives us a chance to be the parents we want to be, and to help our kids solve problems versus hide problems from us…When we're stuck in the habit of worry, it can hum under the radar in our homes until we barely notice it. We come to think of being on alert all day long as just the normal state for parents. But it comes with a cost. An unmanaged mind can Rob you of all the good stuff. Joy contentment connection. And that's what I want for you. I don't want your teenager's final years at home to be an emotional train wreck. I want them to be fun. And I want them to lay the foundation so that your son or daughter can be successful no matter what their next chapter holds…Thank you for joining me in this inaugural episode of parenting successful teens. See you next week. Thanks for listening to parenting successful teams If you enjoyed today's show please head over to Allie where you'll find a free guide that teaches you five different ways to get your teenagers to tell you about their day Grab the guide and start having better conversations today…

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