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Family Talk: Adopting a mantra helps affirm values

Can a simple, positive mantra help maneuver life's challenges? [PHOTO BY PAUL SUTHERLAND, THINKSTOCK]

Can a simple, positive mantra help maneuver life's challenges? [PHOTO BY PAUL SUTHERLAND, THINKSTOCK]

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal that I thought had application to the topic of children and families in Oklahoma. Elizabeth Bernstein wrote about the importance of having a personal “mantra” — a word or phrase that affirms our values and which we repeat over and over to ourselves. Especially during challenging times.

Now, before you toss this aside as self-serving psychobabble, listen to what Bernstein says about the neuroscience research supporting this idea:

Research shows that thinking of a word or phrase that affirms our values — and repeating it over and over — produces powerful physiological changes. It can lower our cortisol levels, enhance endurance and reduce perception of effort during physical exertion ... Every thought we have is made up of a complex pattern of activity influenced by gene expressions, neural connections, proteins and other chemicals in our brain. The more we have a thought, the stronger that circuit grows. Alex Korb, a neuroscientist and author of “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time says,” “The more they communicate, the stronger their connection becomes.”

Bernstein suggests we adopt a personal mantra or motto that helps us focus on the positive that should be, rather than the negative that is. Phrases like:

“This will pass.”

“You've come this far, now push to go further.”

“Never, never, never, give up!” (inspired by Winston Churchill)

"Fortune favors the brave”

Bernstein closes her articles with a handful of suggestions for choosing a mantra and making it part of your internal talk.

How does this relate to children and families in Oklahoma? I believe, as a state, we need a mantra or motto expressing our aspirations for our Oklahoma children and families. I know our state motto is “Labor conquers all,” but the reality is that motto is not doing much to move us ahead. I doubt anyone chants it to themselves. Maybe we Oklahomans need a new mantra instead of languishing in the negative woes of our reality which are these, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count report:

•36th in the nation in overall child well-being

•42nd in children's education

•39th in overall child health

•41st in family and community well-being for children.

Add to this dismal list that we lead the nation in female incarceration, which inevitably leads to child and family disruption, and the mantra we seem to be chanting in Oklahoma is “We're #1 — in poor outcomes for children!”

What if, instead, we changed our mantra or motto? What if we took Bernstein's advice and Oklahoma adopted one or more of these mantras:

•Oklahoma kids are our priority!

•We're building a bright future for kids!

•Forward ever, backward never — for Oklahoma's kids!

•2018 will be the Year of the Child in Oklahoma!

But mere talk doesn't pay the rent, and mottos alone won't prioritize children in our state. We need visionary leaders. We need state government to put our money where our motto is. We need voters to pay attention and demand action from policy makers, school leaders and politicians — and from ourselves. Maybe Bernstein's mantra neuroscience, combined with our action, can make a real difference in our state. It's worth a shot.

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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