We have colleagues all over the globe who share an understanding of how the mind works with just about every population you can think of. One of our favorite colleagues is Mavis Karn who has spent a good part of her long career working with incarcerated youth. I have many Mavis stories about her adventures. Here’s one:
Mavis was talking with a group of adolescent girls on the topic of self esteem. She asked each girl to bring a picture of herself as an infant. Mavis asked the girls to pass their pictures to the person next to them. Then she asked them to describe what they saw. Not surprisingly, the girls filled Mavis’ flipchart with adjectives like – cute, sweet, innocent, happy, funny, cuddly, beautiful, bright, open, curious, and friendly. When each girl got her own picture back, Mavis asked if the same adjectives applied and all agreed that they did. “That’s self esteem you are seeing and it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still in you.”
Mavis has a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. This is a letter she penned many years ago to another group of incarcerated youth.
Dear Kids (and former kids),
I have a secret to tell you, Nobody meant to keep it from you…It’s just that it’s been one of those things that’s so obvious that people couldn’t see it…like looking all over for the key that you have in your hand.
The secret is that you are already a completely whole, perfect person. You have not damaged goods, you are not incomplete, you are not flawed, you are not unfinished, you do not need remodeling, fixing, polishing, or major rehabilitation. You already have within you everything you need to live a wonderful life. You have common sense, wisdom, genius creativity, humor, self-esteem…you are pure potential…you are missing nothing.
The only thing that can keep you from enjoying all that you already are is a thought. One thought, your thought. Not someone else’s thought. Your thought . . . Whatever thought you are thinking at the moment that feels more important to think than feeling grateful, alive, content, joyful, optimistic, loving, and at peace. . . that’s the only thing that’s between you and happiness.
And guess who’s in charge of your thinking? Guess who gets to decide where your attention goes? Guess who gets to write, produce, direct and star in the moment you’re in the middle of? You! Just you. Not your past (stored thought), not the future (did you ever notice that it never, ever shows up?), not your parents (they all think their own thoughts), or your friends (ditto), or school or television or situations or circumstances or anything else. Just you.
Thinking is an awesome capability. Like any capability, it can be used whether as a tool or as a weapon against ourselves and others. And just like with any other tool, we can tell whether we’re using it for or against ourselves by how it feels. When we think against ourselves or others, we get in trouble. When we don’t, we usually stay out of trouble.
FEELINGS EXIST TO WARN US AWAY FROM USING OUR THINKING TO CREATE TROUBLE IN OUR LIVES AND TO GUIDE US BACK TO OUR NATURAL, HEALTHY ABILITY TO LIVE OUR LIVES TO THE FULLEST.
So, please remember that your thoughts are not always telling you the truth. When we’re in low moods, feeling down, our thoughts are not to be trusted…our IQ drops. When our thoughts pass and we lighten up, our thinking is once again creative, positive…our IQ goes up. The only way you can feel badly about yourself and your life is if you think badly about them…it’s up to you, every single minute you’re alive. It’s always up to you!
This is the best, most liberating secret I ever learned, and I want you to know it too.
I hope Mavis’ message resonates with all you “kids” out there and that you remember who you really are.