I just want tools!
When I sit down with a pre-teen or teen for the first time, as part of my leadership coaching service, I’m often greeted with body language that portrays a message of – Who is this guy and what is he going to tell me to do? It’s common for young people to see me as a counselor or therapist, both of which can have negative connotations. Having said this, the first fifteen minutes of our initial meeting is absolutely critical as I attempt to create a safe, nurturing atmosphere.
Several weeks ago, during an initial meeting with one of my coaching clients, I stopped briefly to ask him what he was thinking. I knew he had been through several traditional counseling sessions and had grown increasingly frustrated with the process, so I was prepared for a variety of answers. His response blew me away. He simply said, “I just want tools.” He wasn’t interested in talking through things, rather he was asking me to equip him with tools and strategies that would help him to be resilient in difficult situations.
Whether they are able to express it or not, I can’t help but think that this is what ALL kids want. They don’t want theory, they want tools. They don’t want to be talked to, they want to be talked with. They don’t want to be told what NOT to do, they want to be empowered to do what’s right.
Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book, which will be available for purchase in the next few months. It outlines one of the tools I share with all of my students (and parents) that I work with. I invite you to read it with your child.
Daughter: Okay, so what’s Tool 2?
Father: Your circumstances don’t define you.
I think my brain still hurts from the last tool we discussed. What do you mean by that? I don’t even know what circumstances are.
If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing. It means that you’re getting a good mental fitness workout!
Think of your circumstances as the stuff that’s going on in your life. Your grades in school right now are a circumstance. When I ask you to clean up your room, that’s a circumstance. From the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we fall asleep at night, we are surrounded by circumstances.
Okay, so what do you mean when you say I’m not my circumstances? They’re mine, aren’t they?
The easiest way to answer your question would be to use an example. Do you remember last week when you came to me complaining about how your friend said something rude about you?
Yes, that was really mean.
I can understand why something like that could be hurtful. For the sake of this example, let’s label the rude comment as a circumstance. The lens that you use to think about the circumstance is completely separate.
Dad, you never said anything about a lens!
I didn’t? Silly me. Now’s as good a time as any, I guess!
We’ll explore the idea of lenses a little bit later, but for now I want you to think of a lens as the way you think about your circumstances. The machine in your mind has a thought for every circumstance. Having said this, I want you to consider the fact that the rude comment is not what caused your hurt feelings. It was the way you thought about your friend’s words that hurt your feelings.
But dad, it was rude! How can you say that her comments weren’t hurtful?
Please understand that I am not trying to discount or diminish the fact that you were hurt. In fact, I can still see the hurt in your eyes as you tell the story. What I’m trying to do is to help you understand that circumstance and interpretations are two entirely different things. The circumstance is what happened and your lens is how you interpret what happened.
Despite all of your efforts, you can’t go back and change the circumstance—in this case the circumstance was her words. What you can change, however, is the way you choose to see it. Remember that the majority of our thoughts are subconscious? Well, this is an example of your habitual thoughts taking over. In fact, it’s common to respond the way you did. The only way to change these habitual thoughts is to create a level of awareness that will allow you to catch them.