Throughout this brief section I have been focusing on the idea of Holism or Holistic Health and Medicine as it is more commonly known – the treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease – in essence Brain Injury in the context of mind, body and soul. I have focused on body over the last few weeks (Holistic Health, Diet & Nutrition, Exercise: Body vs. The Mind) , taking a look at both exercise and diet and how these two important factors can have a very positive impact on our state of mind.
This week however I will be starting my focus on mental disciplines and thought process that can help us feel more positive in the way we think; basically moving from the healthy body to the healthy mind. I will show you ways we can find a more optimistic outlook and explore different positive thought processes that can really help ABI and TBI patients during their recovery. I’ve found that by disciplining my mind I have been able to look ahead and see the bigger picture while forgetting about the slights and little issues that I cannot control. This in turn means I can move on quickly from frustrations and the minor irritations that life so often presents. This week will be introducing the basic principles of Positive Affirmation.
What Is Positive Affirmation?
In essence, Positive Affirmation is the ability to recognize and believe in the positive aspects of the self; the good within us, our abilities, our victories and attribute positivity and value to those things within our own minds. Much of this though process centers around the idea of control; more accurately what we can control and what we cannot. The basic principle of positive affirmation is accepting what we can’t control and focusing on the positive things we can accomplish and have accomplished ourselves, giving ourselves credit for the things we have achieved while ignoring the opinions, actions and words of others. The effect of this discipline is that it creates confidence in us while also making our skin a little bit thicker. I know from personal experience that negative things and words aimed at us in any environment can be hurtful, causing us to cast aspersions on our own abilities, our personality, our intelligence or even all of those things. However, if we master the discipline of positive affirmation it is possible to create a mindset where the opinions of other people about who you are, your abilities and what they think of you will matter very little. Now this sounds like a wonderful mindset to be in but where do we begin? How do we learn this mindset? Well, I believe there are two key aspects to learning this discipline as well as on important consideration/variable that must be understood.
Consider Society: Codes, Conventions & The Status Quo
Lets get this out of the way first, shall we? The variable is the unpredictable nature of people and society as a whole and has to be considered. This is an ever-changing thing, never predictable and never static. We do have societal rules that are present, some are written into law and some have been established over many thousands of years and still play a part in upholding modern methods of communication and interaction.
The rules of society along with the codes & conventions of social interaction presents itself as being based on the idea of freedom of speech and action based on an accepted moral compass that has been set by centuries of cock ups and mistakes, learning from them and adjusting our opinion on certain sets of behavior. In essence, People have a right to express themselves and their opinions in the public space without fear of punishment or retribution.
This premise is basically true from the ground up in society. Each individual has his or her own set of moral, ethical and personal principles. At the low levels of general society, people can have a conversation in a pub and have a disagreement over race, religion or on something as mundane as the performance of the international football team. The people participating in a dialogue have a right to say whatever they want to say, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. If we look at the top levels of society, governments are based on the same concept; political parties represent a select proportion of the population and introduce or promote policies, which they believe represent the views, values and best interests of the vast majority of their supporters. They are putting the point of view of their party across.
The reason I make that point regarding hierarchies and structures is because we have to adhere to those structures to be able to integrate into society. To keep a job you have to follow the rules, if you want friends you have to engage with people in a friendly, polite and civil way as well as being sympathetic and empathetic, if you want to stay be free you have to follow the laws of our country and so forth. The point I am trying to make here is that we can only control our own actions and our own statements, there is very little else that we can control.
Aspect One – Know The Parameters of YOUR Control
I think it is also worth looking at the definition of that key word, control:
Control – the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.
Now if you will notice, the definition of “Control” refers only to tangible events; actions we see, hear, touch or feel. In social situations, control is generally not something most people can direct. The reason behind this is the fact that people can say and do what they like really. The decision is made in their brain and that cannot be controlled. We can try to control the consequences of an action once it has happened or the way a conversation is going once something has been said but we cannot control the decision making processes that implements the action.
There are many common idioms in the English language. Common sayings that have almost become clichés but still hold true today and there are two that are particularly relevant.
‘Know your limits.’
‘You can only do so much.’
I however have decided to take these two idioms and by combining them, molding them and adding a few extra words, I have turned these two clichéd phrases into one super idiom, which accurately portrays the first step in learning positive affirmation, and it reads as follows:
‘Know the limits of what you can do.’
So we have established that everyone has the right to their own point of view and the right to express that point of view through actions and words. That being said, we in turn also have every right to disagree with or object to a statement, point of view or opinion. Now, here’s what causes the problem, as I see it, for ABI & TBI patients in current society. In places where we spend a lot of our time, there are generally structures and hierarchies. When at work we are normally subject to the orders of a superior, the rules they set as well as being subject to the demands of customers and co-workers and the rules of the system within which we work. If we are at home we are normally following the rules of the head of the household.
The problem as I see it is that, due to these codes and conventions, rules and hierarchies, it can give people and unprecedented amount of power in social situations (an example being that the customer is always right; a staff member cannot retort to a comment by a customer as they are the people who bring the money in and if you, as most people are, a subordinate at work any form of retaliatory response would be risking your job). So we cannot stop people from expressing their opinions. 90% (I’d take a rough guess at) of the time this is not an issue. It is not all that often that we come across those people who are deliberately hurtful, unpleasant, rude or who deliberately attempt to belittle you. But that minority of people and the things they say can have a large impact on the way we feel about ourselves and our confidence. So in certain ways, depending on your perspective, we are powerless. But are we? Not if we consider Aspect Two.
Aspect Two – Know your strengths, Know Your Abilities & Use Them
The second aspect that needs to be considered is the ability accept the limitations of your injury, acknowledge what you can do and give yourself credit and praise for what you have done. I know from personal experience that after a brain injury we tend to spend much of our time lamenting and resenting our losses. There are abilities and skills that we don’t have any more; things that were a part of who we were. That’s just it though, that’s who we were. We’re someone very different now and while certain things have been lost, certain things will also remain. The difficulty is recognizing and acknowledging this change in abilities and acknowledging the abilities and talents we do have.
After everything we have been through, we spend too much time discrediting ourselves, not giving ourselves enough praise for our talents and skills. As I have stated in previous posts, brain injuries are never identical and everyone is affected differently. For people hoping to live independently post ABI or TBI in whatever aspect (living situation, social skills, finding and keeping employment, managing finances etc.) it is essential that we see what we have and what we don’t have NOW in terms of talent and ability and equally important, ensure that we tailor our recovery and our move towards independence to the strengths and not the weaknesses. If we have issues with memory, perhaps avoid things that involve meticulous detail. If you have job experience prior to the injury that can be used maybe apply for jobs or voluntary work that is similar or the same, if you are good at talking and communication try to implement that to your benefit. All of your talents can be used as a way to strengthen your position in almost any aspect of YOUR OWN life. Once we acknowledge that these strengths and talents exist and that they can help you in ways you had not previously considered it can open a surprising amount of doors for you. Also, knowing that you have these talents and being aware of the opportunities they can provide and how you can capatalise on said opportunity to your benefit can increase confidence and produce a more positive state of mind. It’s amazing the effect success has. The key thing to take away from these successes is that YOU DID IT, YOU SUCCEEDED, IT WAS YOU AND YOUR TALENTS. NOW, YOU ARE REEPING YOUR REWARD. When we get to this stage, successes are starting to come, opportunities are presenting themselves and you are feeling good, safe in the knowledge that IT WAS YOU WHO ACHIEVED THESE THINGS, then can we can start to turn success into the confidence building discipline that is Positive Affirmation.
As I said earlier, success breeds confidence. As confidence builds and successes continue to occur we must use these tools to build a wall around ourselves that make us almost impervious to the opinions of others. The key to this is self-belief. We need to know and tell ourselves that, given our health situation and all the obstacles we have to overcome to get things done, we are still achieving, still succeeding, we are overcoming the odds. The trick is then to turn this knowledge into a tool. Each morning we need to wake up and we need to know and believe all of those previous statements. We need to tell ourselves these things each morning: “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” and so on. The important thing is to then act on these statements; be capable, do the best you can, do a good job. If you can tell yourself this at the end of a day before bed, I can tell you personally that you will sleep a lot easier. It also helps when the critics and the haters give their normally unnecessary and uninformed opinions (when I say uninformed I’m talking about what they say to you without knowing the or even having the slightest comprehension what you as an ABI patient have been and are still going through) it becomes easier to brush them off without the words affecting you as strongly as words and the way they are spoken have the power to do.
That self belief, those three phrases; “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” should be part of the foundation for recovery, the transition into and development of a well rounded and fulfilling independent life, as should the praise for any other personal targets and goals that you achieve. With this type of belief system and a supportive network of friends and family behind you sharing this positive attitude, I think you will be amazed at how drastically it can change your opinion of yourself.
Ignoring The Haters
When we can master these arts of acknowledging the things we can control and the things we can’t, acknowledging our successes and using them as motivational tools as well as accepting the ways, attitudes, opinions and their right to express those things then, with the right attitude, you (as I have found) will find that the words of other people don’t matter very much.
People have opinions, they can express them in whatever way they please. However, I believe in myself. I know that “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” and this, in the end is what truly matters. If you can look at yourself in the mirror in the morning or at the end of the day, or look a supportive family member or friend straight in the eye and say them and mean it, then you will have the art of Self Affirmation mastered and it will bear fruit for as long as you keep practicing it.