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Stinkin’ thinkin’ in a nutshell

By Sue Ellen Haning
Columnist

Hello, all you nuts out there. We have arrived at the essence of it all — fear, buts, hell breaking loose, comfort zone and everything else. Are you ready for this? At the core of it all is stinkin’ thinkin’, and it gets out of control in a heartbeat — and yes, if you are alive, you do have stinkin’ thinkin’, just in case you hoped to deny it. What is stinkin’ thinkin’? In my mind, it’s that voice within. As a writer, the term editor fits. It’s the voice in my head that says, “You think you can write? Get real. No one wants to read this.” I believe some people go crazy listening to their editor. Those that don’t go crazy are those of us who sass back to it, resist it, try to silence it, lock it up, or even kill it (which is impossible). As long as you are breathing, your editor will be, too.

Example: Back in the day, when I was afraid of everything, just thinking about riding elevators could raise my blood pressure, heart rate, respirations and cause me to break a sweat. Now, you would think an intelligent person like me would connect the dots. Just thinking about riding the elevator caused alterations in my physiology. I could be as far away from the elevator as possible, but my stinkin’ thinkin’ wreaked havoc within. It went something like this, “You get in that thing and it goes up. You know you want your feet on the ground. Who knows, it could malfunction. It’s just a mechanical device. It could gain momentum on the way up and not stop and shoot you through the roof of the building and you’d be airborne.” I listened to this craziness. Worse yet, if no one else was waiting to ride the elevator with me, my fear of being alone compounded the event. I didn’t get on.

About now you may be thinking, “This woman is nuts.” I am nuts, because I’m willing to share, in print, my past and its demons. One person cannot relate to another person’s fear, period. I bet you have some fears that would raise a few eyebrows. You just aren’t willing to put them in print. I lost my fears because I stayed outside my comfort zone long enough during the Italy experience that I met life without those fears and loved that new life. Stinkin’ thinkin’ returned the first opportunity I had to ride an elevator after releasing my fear. Butterflies fluttered a bit in my stomach, but not from a fear of riding the elevator. My thoughts of past fears of riding surfaced and momentarily I felt uneasy. I could have continued with the stinkin’ thinkin’ and probably not been able to get on the elevator, but I chose to say, “No, I’m not going there.” I have not had a problem with elevators since. It is amazing what our thoughts can do for or to our experiences.

My passion is tutoring students of all ages who have difficulty with reading and spelling. My success rate is 100 percent. That’s right, 100 percent, but not because I am the greatest (although that could be argued). It is the program and approach I take and the student’s commitment. Through the years, I’ve learned that sometimes a student needs help overcoming his own thinking. The older the student, the harder this is. Example: A parent brings his non-reading 11 year old to me for help. We meet two hours a week for a year. The student now scores grade level in spelling and his reading comprehension is great, but his reading confidence is not matching his ability. He decodes difficult words at the blackboard when asked to break them into syllables and pronounce them, but when those same words appear in a book, his response is not sure. For years he experienced failure when holding books and trying to read. This is the thought that monopolizes his mind and affects his performance. Simply holding the book and looking at the words on the page brought up his stinkin’ thinkin.’ All sorts of internal dialogue in the form of insults slapped his face. He was constantly reminded by the editor in his head, “You know you can’t read. Sure, you can read for Sue Ellen, but when it really matters, like at school, you never will. It’s just who you are. You can’t read.” Blah, blah, blah.

The first time I asked a student to bring a book from school and read to me, I was fascinated with what unfolded. The student’s reading level was beyond that of his school book, yet he stumbled and stammered and finally said, “I can’t.” I copied paragraphs from this book onto the blackboard, where he read them with ease. The next day, I asked him to read the same passage I had previously copied on the blackboard, but this time from the book. He read it with great difficulty. I asked him if he could tell me how he read the passage on the board but had trouble reading the same thing from the book. He answered, “I don’t like books.” And rightly so, since holding books had long been a source of pain for him as it is for many students. He overcame this, but it took a change in his thinking and an understanding that everyone deals with stinkin’ thinkin’.

The same is true of you trying to overcome a fear, an obstacle to success or a desire to try something new. Your experience tells you it’s not going to happen and gives you plenty of reasons why. These are the thoughts that become your barrier to realizing freedom, whether it be learning to read or stepping outside your comfort zone. Stinkin’ thinkin’ will get you every time if you aren’t prepared.

Strategies to battle stinkin’ thinkin’ will vary depending on your personality. I guarantee engaging in this war will take you outside your comfort zone since this enemy’s goal is to kill your action, spirit and thought, and stinkin’ thinkin’ is used to winning hands down. This week, become aware of your own stinkin’ thinkin’ and make notes of the time of day it seems heaviest, situations, circumstances and your response to it. We’re getting serious now, and when you begin to actually listen to what’s going on in your head, you may think you are going nuts. Don’t despair, it’s one more step in getting outside your comfort zone. All is well. As long as you don’t run naked through the streets in response to your editor’s torments, I’m pretty sure you’ll be OK. Hang in there. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.” — Johann von Goethe, German writer, artist, and politician.

See you next time for, “People who challenge your comfort zone.”

This story was posted on March 14, 2013.