Instead of measuring your day by the events that frustrate
focus on the number of times you smile,
the number of times you see others smile.
The pieces of information you choose to focus on can help determine
the story you tell at the end of the day.
Two years ago I consulted on a case of a five year old traumatized girl who tore apart the classroom on a daily basis and often needed to be restrained. It was a profoundly sad case of parental neglect on the part of the mother and abuse and chronic anger outbursts on the part of the father. I helped the staff create a therapeutic approach for her (using photo recognition and identity shaping among other things) and eventually the State removed her from her home and put her with a foster mother (her aunt) who is completely devoted to helping her. She stayed with the same school and they continued the therapeutic approach.
I was called in this week because the school believes she has made great progress while the state social worker is appalled that she still has episodes (one every 8-10 days lasting 2-4 minutes instead of hours—like last year—and no longer requiring restraint). The school claimed they had implemented every one of the programs that I developed. They distributed all my articles and trained all staff dealing with this little girl. She’s doing well, they claimed, although she still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, the state asked me to evaluate the efficacy of the program and offer additional recommendations.
In 5 minutes of observation I had all the information I needed, but I watched this girl for another 45 minutes because I wanted to savor the experience before moving on to the next crisis of the day, in another school in another state.
I assembled the staff around a sizable conference table: the principal, social worker, psychologist, state worker, special education teacher, director of special education, student intern psychologist. They asked me what I thought of the data they had collected, the frequency of episodes. If they really wanted to know how she is doing, I said, they would have to start collecting a different set of data. They should start tracking the frequency, intensity and duration of smiling, because in all the time I observed her two years ago she never smiled one time (almost always feeling miserable), but yesterday she smiled three time in the first five minutes of my observation. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, it was such an incredible transformation. I told the group assembled that I wish that I could end my work for the day right at that moment so nothing else that happened the rest of the day would interfere with my memory of that child’s face. The school, in two years of hard work, had given this girl a life and that was reflected instantly in her face.
They copied the articles that I had brought with me that I wrote last summer on brain-based therapeutic intervention, and meanwhile I explained why their treatment of her had been so successful (not because of me, but because of what they learned to do themselves based on my consultation). When I left everyone in the room was smiling just like this girl, except the principal and the teacher. They were crying.
I thought of you guys and I thought I would just say, instead of measuring your day by the events that frustrate, focus on the number of times you smile. The data you choose to focus on can help determine the story you tell at the end of the day.