Simple lessons last longest. This one I learned from a childhood storybook. The Little Engine That Could pulls the train up the steep mountain, all the while repeating, “I think I can.” The lesson is that telling myself I am capable and making an honest effort are the best I can bring to a challenge.
What the Little Engine told itself is, in modern parlance, “self-talk.” Self-talk is what I tell myself about myself. The raw material for self-talk is my experience interacting with the environment. Where self-talk veers toward the danger zone is when, “I made a mistake” becomes “I am an idiot.” I constantly make assumptions and draw conclusions about myself. And the tendency is that negative self-talk is my default, whereas positive self-talk requires the extra effort to name it, own it and change it.
It’s a long time since I met the Little Engine. I am not a kid anymore and blindness has taught me this: I cannot do what I used to, and to deny that is folly. Sometimes, I feel this whole blindness thing isn’t going particularly well. But the less I tell myself that I am a mess, the less I feel so. And the more I continue to think myself capable, the more capable I may become. When I tell myself that I can adjust to continuing vision loss because I have successfully adjusted to losses in the past, it takes me out of the helpless victim mode.
In the stories I tell myself about who I am, small edits can lead to lasting change and significantly impact outcomes in life. This is the premise of University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson’s book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By. I’m on the trail of Redirect as an audio book. I’ll let you know when I find it. Who knows, it may turn out to be this year’s version of The Little Engine That Could.