How to be successful: self-talk lessons from a two-year-old

I am fortunate to be involved in the lives of many small people. Though I've never had a baby, I have friends, clients, and family members at every stage of the child-rearing game and am intimately familiar with its details.

In particular, I am lucky to know many excellent mamas who treat their very young children with respect and dignity, allowing them to make age-appropriate decisions as often as possible.

A mama of a little girl who has recently turned two shared a story that we can all learn from as we strive to accomplish great things in life. Great things such as weaning and potty-training.

This little girl (we'll call her Susie) is a bright, happy, and highly verbal child. One day while having a snuggle after breast-feeding, her mother said, "When you get to be a big girl, you will wean. That means you won't nurse anymore. Everybody weans when they get big - me, Daddy, your brother, your cousin. So whenever you're ready to do it, you just have to tell me, 'Mommy, I'm ready to wean!' and then you'll be a big girl and you won't nurse anymore!"

Susie took it all in and apparently gave it some thought. The very next day, she exclaimed triumphantly, "I weeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaan!" And thereby, she weaned herself.

Amusingly, Susie took this to mean that she was now officially A Big Girl and was now entitled to use playground equipment and household items that were still far beyond her developmental level (being a big girl, after all, is relative).

Touchingly, Susie was so proud of her weaning that she told her friends and family. "I weeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaan!" she would say to her grandparents, her friend's dad, her neighbor.

This little girl is currently tackling potty-training with a similar amount of pride and passion, although it is a slower process. M&Ms and books read while on the potty are her rewards.

Appreciate where you are.

I think there is a lot to learn from Susie. First of all, how wonderful that she has a mother who allows her to reach developmental milestones in her own time and on her own schedule.

It is not a race.

How often do we chide ourselves for being too slow, or too lazy, or too unsure of ourselves? The reality is, it takes what it takes. There is no point in berating ourselves for what we are not doing.

We all wean. We all potty-train. Just about all of us learn to walk and talk and take care of ourselves. If you have bigger goals (and I hope you do), you will achieve those, too. All in good time. 

Susie, with her toddler's wisdom, also shows us that pride is a good thing.

Gah, what a complicated word! How can it mean something so good, and at the same time something so bad. So I'm not talking about vainglory - I'm talking about, "Yay, I did something hard and I'm going to dance around and take a minute to congratulate myself, the same way I would for someone else!"

Think about it - we are quick give each other positive reinforcement that we deny ourselves. It's such a bummer that we leave ourselves out! And kinda foolish, since behavioral science tells us that taking a moment to feel proud of something you did makes it more likely that you will do more things to make yourself proud. It just feels good.

(I may or may not have taken to hollering, "I weeeeeaaaaaaaaaaan!" every time I complete a blog post.)

Don't take your accomplishments for granted, even if they seem insignificant. Sure, you're not going to give yourself and M&M every time you use the bathroom (if you do, be sure to wash your hands first).

It's human nature that as soon as we jump over one hurdle, we're setting our sights on the next one. We recalibrate our expectations to where we are now, not where we've been. But only ever looking at how far you have to go can be discouraging. Don't forget to notice what's going well and how far you've come.

If I could go back in time and find that (evidently not apochryphal) first piano teacher who believed that discouragement and shame was a better learning environment than encouragement and pride, I would smack her knuckles with a ruler.

No, I wouldn't. I would figure out what she was doing well and praise that. There has to be something. Chances are, she was weaned, potty-trained, and even learned how to dress herself.

Can you think of any areas of your own life where you could do a better job of appreciating your own success? Do you think it will make a difference in your ability to move forward with a challenge?