Positive Expectations

You may have heard the advice to tell your kids what they CAN do, and not what they CAN’T do. Or, to say your POSITIVE expectations, not your NEGATIVE expectations.

An example of this might be that your child goes running around the edge of the pool, and you remind them, “We need to walk at the pool!” instead of saying, “No running!”, because we know scientifically that when we phrase things with the positive expectation, the brain can process it better, faster, and implement it better—because it’s not having to do the work of negating and then figuring out the opposite that it’s supposed to do.

Beginning to not just shift my kid-talk, but shift my own self-talk accordingly has been a big difference for me.

I have these vague moral senses in my mind, like, “I need to stop drinking so much soda.” But then when I’m having a really rough day, it feels like such a small, harmless thing to just let myself have a Dr Pepper. Like, this is self-care, hearing myself and taking care of myself.

Or, “I need to stop eating lunch out, I’m wasting money.” Or, “I need to stop spending so much time on my phone.”

But all of these things are so vague and undefined.

Instead, following the branches of these nebulous concepts to the root value and then making a positive expectation for myself has helped so much.

“I need to stop drinking soda” becomes “I need to drink at least 2 bottles of water in a day” or “I need to have 2 days a week on which I don’t drink any caffeine”. These are my own personal goals — yours might sound different. Maybe yours are, “I need to eat something with protein for breakfast” if your root value is that soda is not a filling or nutritious breakfast for you. Or, “I need to drink a soda all at once with a meal instead of nursing it for hours” if your root value is the health of your teeth.

“I need to stop eating lunch out” becomes “I need to put $x per month into a savings account” or “I need to give $x per month to this cause I care about,” and then being allowed to spend your own money without guilt. Or it might be “I need to stop eating lunch out” becomes “I need to prep myself lunch for two days a week and I will do that on Sundays.”

“I need to spend less time on my phone” becomes “I need to leave my phone in the other room while I’m doing bath and bedtime for the kids,” or, “I need to silence my phone while I work on this project so I’m not distracted,” or, “I need to remove such-and-such app from my phone,” or, “I need to make sure I have a book downloaded on my Kindle app so I read productively instead of doomscrolling social media”.

This has been a very big change for me in many forms of life. It applies in parenting too. “I need to yell less” is a very positive thing to recognize about yourself, but it’s not very actionable when your brain is scrambling in the heat of the moment later on. “I want to memorize the mantra, ‘This is not an emergency,’ and repeat it to myself before reacting to my child when they cry about something that seems silly to me” is much more specific and actionable. Or alternately, “I want to keep earplugs in my pocket at all times so that I can easily pop them in when the situation is getting too chaotic and overwhelming for me.” Or, “I need to change up the way that we’re doing mealtimes because right now something about it always means we end in yelling,” and then you dive into the particulars of what’s happening and how to shift it.