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Unlock Your Brain: Use Proactive Language

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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So I think I’ve discovered a simple but important life hack this week: focusing on my freedom to choose and proactive language. It’s a simple twist in thinking and self-dialogue that has been making a big difference for me. I think it’s important for teacher leaders today.

I’m proud to teach at a Leader in Me school—a culture tied to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There were many thought provoking elements during my training last week, but the freedom to choose has been standing out in my mind. Covey teaches that there is an important space between every stimulus we encounter (e.g. event, conversation, email, observation, etc.) and how we respond to it. He calls this space “the freedom to choose.” Covey writes:

In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.

I felt like the concept of “freedom to choose” was something that already resonated with me and reminded me of things I had heard before. However, I was really interested in Covey’s teaching about the use of “proactive language” in our spoken and inner dialogue. Proactive language emphasizes the freedom to choose when we describe our choices to others or to ourselves. Examples include phrases like: I can…, I choose…, and I will… According to Covey, proactive language alters the brain in positive ways, releasing beneficial hormones that unlock thinking and problem-solving. In contrast, reactive language includes phrases like: I have to…, He made me…, or I don’t have a choice… According to Covey, reactive language releases negative hormones in the brain that limit our thinking. I think this is pretty fascinating!

So while you are checking tasks off your TO-DO list, consider saying/thinking something like: I’m choosing to do this first so I can meet my deadline and leave work on time. This phrase is more empowering than: Ugh, I have to do this work before I can leave. 

When you hear about a bill in the state legislature that will negatively affect students you serve, consider saying/thinking: I have some choices like sending an email, calling my legislators, and talking to others who might share my concerns. This phrase is much more empowering than: I have no influence or voice in educational policy. We have to stop saying these things aloud or remaining silent when others say these things around us. It’s brain science!

I was amazed when proactive language helped me quickly overcome a food temptation at Wal-Mart yesterday! There I was in the check out line, standing beside a freezer full of delicious ice cream treats. I was worn down from the chaos of wild children and overwhelmed parents in the school supply section. I barely made it out of there alive! Celebrating my victory and waiting to check out, I stared into the ice cream freezer and the mental battle began….but I was shocked when the simple phrase: I’m choosing to be healthy ended the struggle. This proactive phrase was so much more useful than my typical phrase: I can’t have that (or that…or that…or that!). Now, I’m really looking forward to applying this idea all year to see how proactive language can change my life for the better.

I think that there might be some magic in proactive language to maximize energy, maintain focus on the things we can change, and feel empowered by the choices we are making. I think that we can all choose to have a great year—make this one your best yet!

Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/de/Mr_Pipo_speech_balloon.svg/500px-Mr_Pipo_speech_balloon.svg.png

 

I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I believe all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I am passionate about National Board Certification, mentoring early career teachers, improving teacher retention, elevating teacher voice, and collaborating with a network of courageous educators who passionately advocate for kids and schools. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

Comments 4

  1. Angelia

    It is amazing what proactive language can do for us. When we change our mindset around tasks and hurdles, it is amazing how much more capacity we suddenly have to tackle them. Thank you for reminding us to positive, purposeful and powerful.

  2. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Agree– This is HUGE! During the tough times, perhaps proactive language doesn’t resolve every situation, but even though I didn’t know about those positive hormones before, it does make me feel a lot better, and like I can stick it out for the long haul, when I realize and own the choices that I can make. So powerful for all of us.

  3. Jen Robinson

    Jess, thanks for sharing this piece! The Covey quote, “In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.” clearly articulates a seemingly simple concept. Imagine the impact we would have if we stopped and used proactive language all the time!

  4. Danielle Brown

    Thanks for sharing this Jess! I agree, it’s all brain science! I love the idea of choosing to do X, so you can do Y. It really helps with a positive outlook as well as giving you power! Negativity takes the power away! I will choose to make this year great and choose to use proactive language to maintain my happiness! Thanks!

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