The Top “Inner Skills” You Needed to Be Taught as a Kid

6 min read

Growing up in rural Ohio, I sometimes (around dusk on a warm evening) went out to catch lightning bugs. As I ran about the yard spotting these insects, gently scooping them in my hands and collecting them for a while in a mason jar, little did I know I had happened upon a set of lessons I wish we were all formally taught as kids—teachings on how to show up to moments with energy, curiosity, flexibility, and full-on, about-the-moment-not-about-me engagement.

What I call momentology is this “course of study,” for the inner skills we as adults need in our daily work and relationship moments, the lessons our kids need as well. What researchers and practitioners of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) call “psychological flexibility” equates with the skills that should be formally taught in childhood.

A recent longitudinal study of parents showed that those measured as higher in awareness of present-moment experiences, staying more objective and accepting of their thoughts and feelings, and acting toward what matters most were significantly less likely to experience stress and depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Would that all of us, and all our kids, could learn such inner skills deeply and as early as possible! To me, they are as follows:

1. Not believing everything you think

Lightning bugs can shock you. … I believed this (briefly) when I was little. Yes, these insects possess a very small amount of phosphorescent charge, but certainly not enough to create a painful shock. This and other “boogeyman”-sorts of thoughts are common in childhood. Truth is, the adult mind continues to believe all sorts of thoughts absent direct, verifiable evidence.

“She’s never going to love me the way I need,” or “I’m better than so-and-so and it’s not fair they got a promotion, and I didn’t,” and insert-your-own musts, nevers, always, and shoulds here—thoughts with certainty and rigidity that snap you to attention with belief when they arrive.

These thoughts sound like “you” and, yet, do you choose them? They come unbidden, and we believe many of them when we’re better off seeing them accurately as they are—your brain’s guesses as to how to navigate momentary perils and possibilities. Thoughts of past failures and future catastrophes (or glory you “must” obtain). Thoughts as indictments of yourself or others. Thoughts of high-stakes expectation and evidence-devoid assumption—these are cognitive “burping.” Just like indigestion, these thoughts will pass if you quit fueling them. Their fuel is your attention, your belief.

2. Owning moments, versus trying to “possess” people, situations, or even “stuff”

The unluckiest of lightning bugs were those I tried to keep as “pets” in my mason jar. No matter how much I thought they were “mine” and would offer them Fruity Pebbles from the kitchen, they ultimately proved they weren’t my possessions. They died.

If only we could learn as young kids to savor moments of bugs, hugs, touchdowns, and first kisses without grabbing hold and trying to possess that which life brings our way.

I wish I’d been more formally taught as a kid to make plans, create goals, put in diligent disciplined effort, and let go of control over people and outcomes in the world I simply don’t and can’t possibly possess.

My clients’, yours, and my own life would be less fraught with suffering and conflict (and more lightning bugs might live to spark another day) if we had all learned as kids to be owners (of moments), not control freaks grasping at possession.

3. Accepting the pain of no control as the biggest, baddest doing of all

Sh*t happens, as the bumper stickers declare. Loss and failure visit all of us. Sometimes there’s no immediate solution.

In many moments, we’re faced with the primary color, raw discomfort—the pain—of being alive.

There’s nothing to be done about lightning bugs. They flash off and on their own regardless of my expectations. There’s nothing I can do to bring back the one I’ve killed as my pet. As a child then, as an adult now, I can either knee-jerk react toward what should or shouldn’t be (according to me), or I can skillfully own the moment and accept that what’s happened has happened. That the pain just is.

Acceptance can feel passive; a quitting; a caving in. And when there’s no fix, and the pain is “on,” then it’s anything but passive. It’s badass to feel it unflinchingly and to allow the pain to relay its message of loss, change, and declaration of need, and allow the pain to move in its own time. When? This moment … For how long? This moment … Opportunities to connect and create come out of the fertile moments of composted, accepted pain.

4. Disciplined doing of what resonates with “we,” not what serves “me”

Just like how symphonies (or great rock bands in my opinion) can add separate sounds together that amplify and integrate beautifully with one another, our actions can resonate with the energy of a given situation, a moment.

I can remember the symphony of running and playing at dusk among the lightning bugs with friends or cousins. And there have been many moments since that when I get sufficiently free of possessive agendas, curious about what is, and accepting of that which I can’t control; I own the moment by noticing and then doing what fits.

When we drop out of assumptions of “me,” and become vividly aware of the interplay between ourselves, others, and the world, we drop into resonance. We lightning-bug-spark up the moment by noticing possibilities to heal, create, connect, and lead. Even when it’s challenging or uncomfortable, learning the discipline of resonant action is the skillful culmination of the first three skills.

I’m not catching all the bugs. I’m catching (owning) moments.

Try this: “Catch the lightning bug of this moment”

  1. Only this moment. Breathe and listen for the evidence, the feel, of each of your senses, even your thoughts.
  2. Without fixating, grabbing, pushing, pulling. Stay open to all that’s happening inside and out, not dropping down rabbit holes of agenda, bias, assumption, or “should.”
  3. Noticing all that is. Stay open to noticing everything. You’ll pick up on what is there to be resonated with, acted on, for the benefit of more than anticipation would have allowed.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours