It’s Going to Be a Fantabulous Year!

I was hiking a few weeks ago, and ended up hiking out fairly late. With a few miles to go the sun was setting. Far before I reached the end, it was dark and I was tired. The darkness and the tiredness made me a bit fearful, not particularly joyful, and interestingly enough, a bit more tired.

Realizing my plight, I chose a few positive thoughts to repeat to myself as I walked. “I am strong. I am fierce. I am brave.” As it got darker, and I got more tired, I upped my positivity game. “I am strong and getting stronger. I am fierce and getting fiercer. I am brave and getting braver.” (And yes I realize fiercer is not really a word, but it worked for me.)

Thankfully I wasn’t hiking out alone, and we had flashlights. The lights were small but still enabled us to search for the blaze, and then illuminate the path a few steps ahead. We relied on the blaze we had just seen, our assessment of the ground before us, our ability to traverse rocky and root filled paths, and our memory. My brother occasionally reminded me “One step at a time.” With the camaraderie, the light, and the positive thinking — inside and outside of my own brain — we made it back to the car without incident.

As we drove home, I thought about the new school year, and the hike I had just finished. The hike seemed the perfect metaphor for the school year. As educators we start the year with grand ideas, wonderful plans, and a good bit of exuberance. At some point, or hey, at many points, we end up tired and in darkness (literally and figuratively). Often we can only see the blaze right before us.

That’s OK. No worries! It’s at those moments — even more than usual — that we have to rely on each other. And, alone or together, we must trust our thinking, our assessment of the situation, and our ability to move — even in the dark.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves of the tools we have — even if they aren’t the tools we wish we had — and use our big beautiful creative brains to elevate their usefulness. I usually have a headlamp when I hike. Unfortunately I forgot to pack it this hike, so I only had a very small flashlight. It was tough to hold it and use my hiking poles at the same time.

At some point, I realized I could make a headlamp. I was wearing a fleece hat, and my sunglasses were perched on top of it. I stopped for a moment, positioned the flashlight under my hat, and secured it with my sunglasses. It worked fantabulously!

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The success and enjoyment of my hikes, and my school year depends on my preparation,  my language, my breath, the people I surround myself with, and the story I tell myself. Just like when I hike it’s all about one step at a time. And if I can only see that one step ahead, I need to take it and move in the direction that seems right. At some point it will either be confirmed and I will continue, or I will realize I’ve made a wrong turn, back track a bit, and start again. It’s all good. It’s all growth. It’s all fascinating.

So, my educator peeps. Get your headlamps ready. Gather your friends. Breathe deep. Be positive. Be fierce. Be brave.

It’s going to be a fantabulous new school year.

The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.