The concept of ‘Fertiliser’ vs. ‘Poison’ thinking and speaking first occurred spontaneously about 7-8 years ago when I was supply teaching in the town of my birth, Cootamundra, New South Wales. I had a grade six class for the day and we were trying to play a game of softball. An incident occurred that triggered most players from both teams starting to criticise each other over some action one team member had done. It became personal between them. It continued to grow, and it was the catalyst for this new description of self- talk.
I could feel a sense of anger arising in myself as I could see children succumb to the anger and begin to hurt each other in firing hurtful comments. I looked at their faces. In that moment I felt they looked like they had swallowed something poisonous. Nothing I seemed to do could get their attention at the time and I knew I needed to act before something physical occurred.
Suddenly this burst of energy came over me fuelled by anger (though it had no control over me) I said something in a passionate focused yet firing way that jolted them out of the anger… It’s hard to remember the exact words now, but it was something along the lines of…
What are you doing? STOP KILLING YOURSELF!!…You’re killing yourselves and each other right now! Can you see that your poisoning each other with your words and drinking this poison? Your words are like a poisonous knife stabbing into each other!!
Their responses … turned their attention away from each other to me. Huh? What? Killing ourselves?! That’s dumb! We are not! (and some other responses I could just hear…but chose to ignore)
Ok, Great…I broke their attention away from each other…My response then was something like,
…Aren’t you? Do you feel good right now? Are you enjoying yourself? The words you are yelling at each other create stress in the body and patterns of thinking and actions that will slowly kill you over time? As your PE and science teacher and from a mental and emotional health perspective your killing your best self!! Are your actions now making you happy? Do you know what’s happening to your cells in your body right now?! Let’s get to the bottom of this and find a solution without the poisonous talking!
After that day, it was an interesting exercise to reflect on the situation and those words I said to the children and their reactions to it. To reflect on the outer scenario, realising it reflected the internal self-talk going on for each child. Also, to reflect on…yes…scary… on me!! To then ask myself the question, where in my life do I poison myself with my self- talk and others with my outer talk? Also, where in my life do I fertilise (encourage) personal growth, in my self-talk and in others too?
From that instance the whole concept of ‘fertiliser’ and ‘poison’ self-talk and outer talk to others, grew. These words were what jolted children into remembering. Yes, they could also be described as positive or negative self-talk. But for children this image seemed to work. I wanted an image that would be helpful to bring awareness of the thoughts we are firstly saying to ourselves and secondly to others. And words that they would remember in a scenario in the future.
This led into brainstorming self-talk phrases that would help fertilise and encourage our growth in ourselves, both in and outside the classroom. Also, to be aware of the poisonous self-talk phrases we could say to ourselves or someone could fire at us and how to deal with it.
Fertiliser self- talk phrases such as ‘With practice I get better and better each day’, ‘I’ll give it my best.’ and ‘I will get this!’ etc. In encouraging or coaching others; ‘You’ve got this’, ‘Do you need a hand?’ ‘Your improving, keep at it!’
Poison self- talk phrases such as ‘I’m dumb’, ‘I’ll never get it!’, ‘It’s too hard!’, ‘I’m not good enough!’ ‘Other people are better at it than me!’, ‘I give up!’, ‘I’m weak!’ etc to others … ‘Your dumb!’, ‘hopeless’, ‘ugly’, etc
Space can be created for children to express these phrases and scenarios in a way that are meaningful for each child/student to understand them, such as roleplaying and even a discussion on what’s happening inside the body. (other activities are included in the upcoming facilitator guide to book 1 in the wise kids series ‘ A Wise Apple Tree Helps me…)
Ultimately our self -talk starts with the beliefs we hold and that has been studied recently in the field of epigenetics to how it affects us. In closing ill end with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi;
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
- Andrew Holt
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