The Power of Our Words

Welcome to my first official blog post! I am so excited to add regular blog posts as a new feature of Flourish & Thrive. I know it will be a wonderful way for me to connect more regularly with all of you who are so near and dear to my heart. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) and enjoy!


language parents use with children

One thing I need to share about myself is I am a bit of a research junkie. This is definitely the reason why I always have three or four nonfiction books on my bookshelf waiting to be read and why I haven’t read a fiction book in years. There is so much fascinating research out there in regards to human behavior and the field of research around what makes us happy and successful is truly exploding. I get a little giddy when I read what I like to refer to as a “gem” and then apply it to my life and share it with my clients and watch how what happens to us really mirrors the positive findings in studies.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I recently came across one of these “gems” in the book Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations by Chris Berdik. In the book, Berdik shares a 2012 study where researchers had participants throw a ball at a target and then complete two questionnaires. Some of the participants were told that their answers indicated that they perform well under pressure, while others were given nonspecific feedback about their abilities. Next, the participants were all asked to hit the target with the ball again while being videotaped and offered prizes for improving their accuracy. What happened? Almost 90% of the participants who had been told that they perform well under pressure met the accuracy goal, compared with just 27% in the control group! Gem, gem, gem!

It made so much sense when I thought about how this aligned with all of the other research out there around the language we use with ourselves and others. It truly is amazing how influential our words are at affecting our behavior and the behavior of those around us (more on this in future blog posts).

After having read this, I was bursting to have a chance to apply it and I knew that my daughter’s times tables tests were the perfect opportunity. Molly had to complete each of her times tables facts orally within 30 seconds before moving on to the next level. The kids were supposed to tell the teacher when they were ready to test and Molly had been avoiding it. Each day after school I would ask her if she had taken the test and I was met with some form of excuse (I forgot…We were too busy…My teacher had a cold and I figured she needed to rest). After reading about the study, I had a response ready when I heard yet another reason why Molly had not taken the test.

Me: I’m sure you’ll be happy when you finally take the test since you are someone who performs great under pressure. Given that, I’m sure you’ll feel relaxed and get your best time yet.

Molly: Really? I am? How do you know?

Me: Well, there are tons of times when I’ve watched you perform great under pressure. Take your music recital for instance (Molly plays the electric drums). You knocked it out of the park on stage – I don’t think I’ve ever heard you play as well as I did that night.

Molly: I actually made a mistake in the middle of the song.

Me: You did? I had no idea! That proves my point even more. Even when you made a mistake you kept on playing with such confidence that no one in the audience was even aware of it. Talk about someone who performs well under pressure!

Molly: Silent but I can tell she is pondering that one.

Me: And then of course there’s the Ocean Beach Canine Costume Contest (a cute little neighborhood dog/owner costume contest that Molly entered with our beloved dog Bailey who has since passed away). Remember when we arrived and we were stunned to see the lengths that people had gone to. There were tons of floats for the dogs and the most elaborate costumes that we had ever seen. You knew right away that you and Bailey didn’t even have a float and your costumes were not the most extravagant ones there but you walked across that stage with such poise and personality. Then when you stopped in the middle of the stage and jumped into your superhero pose (Molly was Super Girl and Bailey was Super Dog) the judges and the audience went nuts. And what happened? Out of almost 100 people you and Bailey won Best Dog and Child!

Molly: Wow. I guess I really do perform well under pressure (I am starting to see her head swell a bit at this point but am fine with it).

Sure enough the next day before I could even ask her, Molly excitedly told me how she had remembered to take her times tables test and how she easily passed because (and I promise I am not making this up) “it really is so true that I do my best under pressure Mom!”

Is Molly really a person who performs well under pressure? Yes! Can you or your children also perform at your best when under pressure? Absolutely! How do I know that when I’ve never even met you? It’s simply about learning the recipe just like we all can learn how to cook a fantastic cake if we follow a good recipe. So, if you haven’t started your own recipe file of ways to positively influence your behavior and the behavior of those you love now is a good time to begin with recipe #1.

Recipe for Performing Well Under Pressure

performing well under pressure

To cook up a fabulous individual who performs great under pressure, we have to begin by recognizing our deeply held thoughts and beliefs (this first step is crucial as many of us go through life on autopilot never taking the time to really think about these things). After reading the study it occurred to me that I had never thought about whether or not Molly perceived herself as someone who performs well under pressure. And, I doubt she ever considered it herself but deep down she clearly had a resistance to taking the times tables test.

So, how do we convince ourselves or others that we/they perform well under pressure especially if we/ they might think otherwise? Simply tell them it is so and back up your words with evidence so that the person begins to internalize and believe the statement. This is one of my golden rules of life that I have learned to be oh so very true: WHAT WE BELIEVE, WE CREATE. But the key is to really believe so the evidence part here is crucial.

Now, I can hear some of you already saying, “Well, what if I don’t have any evidence?” My simple answer to that my friends is that I promise you that you do. Did you notice how the evidence I gave Molly had nothing to do with previous times that she had performed well academically under pressure? The evidence I gave her frankly had to do with things I know she is passionate about – music and her dog. The irony here is that I could have rattled off other times she had done well academically but I knew that these other two anecdotes would be more impactful for her.

While academic and athletic performances may be the easiest ones for some of us to come up with sometimes it helps to think outside the box a bit here. Are you the one who whips up an amazing dinner when your spouse calls and tells you last minute that some friends are coming over? Did your child make all the relatives cry when she read a poem with poise and passion at Thanksgiving? There are a million ways each of us performs great under pressure each and every day and we just have to take the time to notice and pay attention to it, remind ourselves that we are a person who does indeed do our best when the heat is on and then watch again and again how that statement becomes oh so true.

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Posted in Achievement, Children, Language, Parenting, Success