Twenty-eight third graders are sitting in front of me. They are shifting in their seats, talking and laughing. Today we are beginning the “Do Your Best On The Test” lesson that I created and that is based on using the power of the subconscious mind to help with performance anxiety and anxiousness in general. I call the lesson “What Good Thinkers Do: The Power of Your Super Powerful Amazing Imagination!”
Children are particularly responsive to this request, as they already use their creative imagination much of the time. I keep in mind, however, that since children are so suggestible at this age, everything I say to them — positive or negative — will shape them if they accept or decide it is true.
I start by asking them, “How do you feel about the upcoming test?”
As the students begin calling out answers to my question, I write them on the left side of a piece of chart paper: “Scared. Sick to my stomach. Worried. Dumb. Sleepy. Nervous. I don’t know the answer.”
I tell them, “Well, these are all natural feelings and there is nothing wrong with them, but do you want to feel this way?” and they say, “NO!”
“Guess what!” I continue. “You don’t have to feel those feelings if you don’t want to! I am going to teach you a special trick you can do to help yourself in situations where you feel any of these feelings and you want to feel something different.” I explain that they have more control over their feelings than they may realize.
This is hard for many of them to believe, since their parents and teachers are always telling them what to do. But I say, “No matter what anyone says or does to you, you always have control of how you perceive it and what you do with that information.” I explain to the students that even the smartest student in the whole school can do poorly on a test if the child is nervous and tells him or herself they are not good enough. I explain that if we relax our minds and bodies, we have all we need inside of us to help us do our best. We can fill our minds and put our attention on imagery and ideas that will help us relax and do our best on the test.
We then go through our list written on the left side of the chart paper and reverse all the negative feelings into positive ones, which I list on the right side of the paper. “Scared” becomes “courageous.” “Sick to my stomach” becomes “comfortable in my body.” “Worried” is reversed to “confident.” “Dumb” is changed to “intelligent.” “Sleepy” becomes “awake and alert.” “I don’t know the answer” is changed to “All information I’ve ever learned is in my mind and I can access it when I need it.” A few students want to add, “Get 100 percent on the test,” and I quickly re-frame that statement to “Do my best on the test.”
I explain that although our super-powerful, amazing imagination can transform many situations, this process is not magic; if information is not in your brain, it won’t magically appear. However, all our memories, sights and smells, every experience and event, are stored in the mind and body, and this information can be called upon as a positive resource during times like test-taking.
I know that kids of this age can drop into a deep state of imaginative involvement very easily, usually much more easily than adults. So, when the students ask, “How?” I tell them to close their eyes and let their mind follow the sound of my voice. I guide the group through three deep breaths, breathing air in through their noses (“smelling the flowers”) and out through their mouths (“blowing out the candle”). To my amazement, even a group of wriggly fifth-graders very quickly settles into their seats, as a deep quiet settles throughout the room.
Then I ask them to imagine that a door is in front of them and that they can reach out and open that door, leading to a passageway to a special place where they are safe, secure, happy and at peace. I know their imaginations are being activated when I see their bodies relax. I hear deep sighs fill the room and I witness smiles spreading across faces. In this state, I know their minds are more open and ready to receive the positive-thought statements we wrote together as a group. They repeat each statement after me, either aloud or silently to themselves. “I am intelligent. I am focused and in control. I am comfortable in my body. I am awake and alert. I am ready to learn. Everything I have ever learned is available to me to help me do my best on the test. I am excited to take the test! School is fun!”
To finish, I count from one to five and tell them to open their eyes. I explain that whenever they are feeling anything they would like to experience differently, they can return to that special place in their super-powerful, amazing imagination. All they need to do is open that door and walk in, and they can experience all those good feelings again.
The lesson is over and I give them exercises to practice at home: They are to say their positive-thoughts statements to themselves when they wake up in the morning, throughout the day and before bed. I remind the students that they can use these skills to prepare and experience success during any important life event, now and in the future, whether they are at school or at home, before and during a driver’s test, a job interview, a big sports competition or a music performance, getting ready for a big date or their first day of college. They giggle and look at each other excitedly as we envision these future events together. As they walk out the door, I remind them, “Remember, you have control!” and their smiles and signs of “thumbs up” show me they do.
Tips for Parents and Teachers
1. Create a time in the day for children to be quiet, calm and centered. In that state, encourage kids to go back to a time in their life when they felt successful and happy and ask them to dwell in that place in their imagination. The more they experience that state of positive feelings, the more they will be able to bring that experience into the present moment.
2. Make your use of language intentional. Use terminology like “I am brave!” instead of “I am fearless!” (The subconscious mind will hear the word “fear” and program fear.)
3. Encourage children to do their best and to work hard, while continuing to remind them they are “perfect just the way they are.”
4. Be aware of your stress and your projections and do your own personal work. Children emulate adults. What we do, they do. The subconscious mind records and understands all verbal language as well as body language and energetic cues.