Janice teaches our Mindful Studies class at Lincoln High School. She shared this amazing story about one of the teens in her class.
One day after class Molly (not her real name) approached me and handed me a beautiful gold medal with a blue ribbon. She smiled at me and said, "This is for you." I was a bit surprised, but thanked her and asked her to tell me more.
Molly practices fencing competitively and has for all her life. Recently she’d been seriously injured, and after a long and hard recovery, she was back at it, but her fencing just wasn't the same. She was constantly plagued by doubt and negative thoughts about herself. Her performance suffered, and she hadn’t won any medals in a long time.
The previous weekend, she was at a big competition, facing off with a life-long opponent. Her chances of winning seemed impossible, and she felt the familiar tide of doubt and self-criticism rising. But as she walked out onto the floor for her match, an amazing thing happened.
The last class in Mindful Studies had focused on self-compassion, including examining the negative ways that students talked to themselves and developing reassurances based on unconditional love. Molly had always been skeptical of self-compassion, but as she faced her competitor that day, it suddenly struck her that she had nothing to lose. She took a deep breath, and instead of the critical things she’d been saying to herself, she started saying things to herself like, "You're ok just the way you are," "It doesn't matter if you win or lose,” and "I'm here with you."
Every time there was a pause in the match, Molly would take more deep breaths and keep offering herself compassionate reassurances: "I love you no matter what," reminding herself that her self-worth was so much more than the outcome of this match.
But Molly didn’t lose. She won the match.
When she told me her incredible story, with tears in her eyes, she said, "I never thought that being kind to myself mattered until taking this class." Molly qualified for a state-wide competition, and she reported that self-compassion is now a mandatory part of her pre-match preparation.
It isn’t the fact that Molly won the match that’s important. What’s important is that Molly’s story is a beautiful example of the power our thoughts have to shape our reality. She redirected her attention, and it changed how she felt and therefore how she acted.
If even one teen has an experience like this, we’ve been successful.