Nurse Heather's four year old son, Jack, likes to put his fingers in his mouth. But this can lead to dental problems in the future. She heard the episode about Matt learning to keep track of his keys, by noticing that he was setting them down and saying "I'm putting my keys on the counter." Heather wondered whether it could help her son.
We also discover that Heather has bigger plans, involving her husband, and this was just a practice run.
These last two episodes explore "noticing and labeling." There's been a lot of recent psychological research on these techniques.
[00:00:00] Cold Open
[00:00:00] Heather Schenck: I don't know if you know this, but when you put your finger in your mouth frequently, it can actually change the shape of your teeth and start making some of them point out. And, , I'll show you what a picture looks like. And so I just Googled a picture of what can happen. And some of them were a little scary, but I showed them a couple pictures and said, look, these kids sucked on their fingers for many years and that's what happened. And,
[00:00:26] Daniel Greening: Welcome to the Mindful Agility podcast. I'm your host, Dan Greening. My cohost is Mirela Petalli.
Heather Schenck joins us again today. She was Nurse Heather in Episode Four "95% Vegan, a Hundred Percent Happy." She described her repeated experiments to be vegan in a non-vegan family. Today Nurse Heather describes how Episode Seven, just a few weeks ago, inspired her to help her four-year-old son Jack learn to stop sucking his fingers. But she is actually practicing for a bigger challenge. Stay with us to hear more.
If you want to get useful stuff done faster, this podcast is for you. Mindfulness practices help us gain greater insight while agile practices help us get results. Each episode is an agile experiment to see if we can help you our listener. The journey is half the fun.
[00:01:29] Daniel Greening: Hey, Heather, I know you recently listened to an episode of the Mindful Agility podcast, where Mirela helped Matt keep track of his keys.
In that episode, Matt created a ritual to say "I'm placing my keys on the couch," or "I'm placing my keys on the night stand," whenever he would put down his keys. There was no requirement that he put his keys anywhere in particular, but just by noticing what he was doing, he started putting his keys in a single place in his apartment.
And that made you think about some interesting things you might do.
[00:02:00] Heather Schenck: Yeah, it did. It made me laugh because my husband does the exact same thing that Matt does. He is constantly losing his cell phone, his keys, his wallet, his AirPods. And even with having the tile, he still loses his things because filled sound isn't loud enough. So yeah, it definitely got me thinking about my husband and how he could some work on, not losing his things as well.
[00:02:24] Mirela Petalli: Well, I'm excited. Did you do it?
[00:02:27] Heather Schenck: No. I didn't. One thing I noticed was that you came to it with an attitude of non-attachment to what the results were, whether or not he was able to stop losing his things that you didn't feel frustrated when he lost his things that you actually thought it was funny. I, on the other hand, feel very irritated when my husband loses his things and I'm trying to get the two little kids out the door. So even though that story inspired me, I didn't want to start with that because I didn't think I could authentically come to the table saying that I didn't care about the outcome that I, thought it was funny.
[00:03:03] Mirela Petalli: Yeah, I think, yeah, yeah, that's very wise. What happened next?
[00:03:08] Heather Schenck: I tried to think about something else that I could use this skill on, and my son Jack is four and a half and he has had this finger sucking habit since he's been an infant. He does it during the day mindlessly when we're driving in the car, or when he's watching a TV show or when he's sleeping. Just at random times of the day. And noticed starting to subtly make some changes to the shape of his teeth on top and on bottom. So I was curious to see if I could use the same tactics you used for Matt on my son, Jack.
[00:03:45] Daniel Greening: So you're not as stressed out about your son.
[00:03:48] Heather Schenck: Exactly. Like he's four and a half, so he hasn't even lost his baby teeth yet. I still have a lot of time to correct this problem. didn't feel that sense of urgency. Like I need to fix this right now, and I was able to recognize okay, the worst case scenario is that he continues to suck his finger and up with braces, which even if he stops sucking his finger he might end up with braces anyways.
[00:04:13] Daniel Greening: Can you tell us a little bit about Jack I assume sometimes you have behavioral issues that you have to deal with. What's it like over there?
[00:04:24] Heather Schenck: We practice a lot of observing our emotions in our household. Since he was an infant, I've read to both him and his little sister, a book called "The Way I Feel" by Janan Cain . We've always practiced observing. I am feeling this way. I am feeling that way. Or if I can tell that he's really angry and about to throw a toy, I'll say something like, oh, Jack, I can tell. It seems like you're feeling very frustrated right now.
[00:04:50] Daniel Greening: I see. So did he know that he, was sucking on his fingers?
[00:04:54] Heather Schenck: When I brought the topic up, he knew what I was talking about. Yes. When he does it in the moment, I don't think he even realizes he's doing it.
[00:05:02] Daniel Greening: Interesting.
[00:05:03] Mirela Petalli: It seems like he is already practicing some noticing and observing. That's great. I love that. How did you approach the conversation? How did you start this process?
[00:05:15] Heather Schenck: I made sure were no distractions in the room. No toys near him. And that I was sitting at his level looking directly in his eyes. I said Jack I've noticed that you put your fingers in your mouth a lot. And I don't even think, you always realize that you're doing it. Have you noticed that? And he was like, yeah. And I was like, well, I don't know if you know this, it can actually change the shape of your teeth and start making some of them point out. I'll show you what a picture looks like. I just Googled a picture of what can happen and said, look, these kids sucked on their fingers for many years and that's what happened. If you do continue to do that, you could end up needing special tooth doctors to help fix your teeth.
[00:05:58] Daniel Greening: What did he think of that?
[00:06:00] Heather Schenck: I could see that he looked scared and I tried to reassure him. Everything's gonna be okay I don't need to scare you. I just want you to know, that if you keep doing this for a long time, then this is what could happen. And that's when I kind of introduced my idea based on Mirela had done with Matt. I said, so I have an idea, Jack. First of all, I don't think you even noticed when you're putting your finger in your mouth. I want to try something if you're interested. I think what you could do is every time you go to put your finger in your mouth, say to yourself either in your head or out loud I just put my finger in my mouth. And then you can decide what you want to do. You can decide okay. I'll just leave it there, but knowing, good in I just want to leave it in you know, that it could look like this, and then you could need the special tooth doctor, or you could make the decision to take the finger out of your mouth whatever you do is fine by me. Mommy's not going to be mad, whatever you do, but I thought this would be a cool experiment for us to try.
[00:07:10] Mirela Petalli: Do you think he understood Instructions
[00:07:13] Heather Schenck: Yes, I do
[00:07:15] Daniel Greening: So how did it go?
[00:07:17] Heather Schenck: It went really well. I would say the first 5 to 10 times that he put his finger in his mouth he didn't even recognize he did it. And didn't bring awareness to the moment. So I would say, say, oh, I just put my finger in my mouth and he.
[00:07:31] Daniel Greening: Would you be looking at him that
[00:07:34] Heather Schenck: I would, and I would say it just like that nonchalantly, like, oh, I just put my finger in my mouth.
[00:07:39] Mirela Petalli: But that wasn't in an attitude like, oh my gosh, what did you do? That was more of a jokingly playful like, oh, you did this, but you didn't notice that you did it.
[00:07:48] Heather Schenck: Exactly. I mean, my kids are only two and four and a half, but I already have realize that. realized that the more attached I am to the outcome and and that I will be angry if they do something just makes it worse. So I was just like, Hey, I made an observation And then he immediately, those first few times that I had to do it for him just pulled his finger out of his mouth
[00:08:11] Daniel Greening: it
[00:08:11] Heather Schenck: it was like touching a hot stove. And then it was really only like the first five to 10 times. And then after that, every single time he went to put his finger in his mouth, he would say it out loud. . He'd be like, I just put my finger in my mouth and then he would immediately pull his hand down.
[00:08:28] Mirela Petalli: Did you ever ask him to stop?
[00:08:31] Heather Schenck: No, never did.
[00:08:33] Daniel Greening: Did you congratulate him for taking his fingers out of his mouth?
[00:08:37] Heather Schenck: No, I wanted to give him positive reinforcement through congratulating his observation. So I would just say, great job, Jack. You observed that you did that. Great job. You noticed that you were about to put your finger in your mouth. So even if he made the choice to leave it in he didn't he always would instinctively pull it out I would just tell him good job, Jack. You're noticing what you're doing.
[00:09:01] Daniel Greening: So, when you said I just put my finger in my mouth. Would he repeat it?.
[00:09:08] Heather Schenck: Yeah, the first few times he put his finger in his mouth I would say I just put my finger in my mouth and sometimes he would repeat it back out loud. I just put my finger in my mouth or sometimes he would just pull his finger down.
And then I think he finally started to catch on. And at one point he put his finger in his mouth and he said, just put my finger in my mouth mom. Now, what do I do?
[00:09:31] Mirela Petalli: I love that.
[00:09:33] Heather Schenck: and I was just like, well, it's up to you, bud , you know what will happen if you leave it in, it's up to you. And he took his finger out of his mouth.
[00:09:41] Mirela Petalli: That's amazing. You gave him a choice.
[00:09:44] Daniel Greening: So how long did it take to fix this?
[00:09:47] Heather Schenck: Two days,
[00:09:48] Daniel Greening: Two days,
[00:09:49] Heather Schenck: two days
[00:09:50] Mirela Petalli: Wow.
[00:09:51] Daniel Greening: completely fixed?
[00:09:53] Heather Schenck: Two days. A habit he has has had for the four and a half years that he's been alive two days. I would say occasionally, I notice he'll do it , but it's so rare that I would say it's an extinct habit now.
[00:10:07] Daniel Greening: So when he does it now, like those rare moments, do you say I'm putting my finger in my mouth.
[00:10:14] Heather Schenck: I just say the same thing and it works. It still works. He hasn't forgotten and this was months ago, which is surprising for a four and a half year old to still remember. All I have to say is I just put my finger in my mouth.
[00:10:26] Daniel Greening: That's really cute.
[00:10:27] Heather Schenck: Yeah,
[00:10:28] Daniel Greening: Is he happy? I still happy. I suppose. No difference.
[00:10:32] Heather Schenck: Yeah, no, I think,
[00:10:33] Daniel Greening: Same kid.
[00:10:35] Heather Schenck: same kid. I think he's doing well again, like I said, we, I said, ] we work a lot on obser observing our behavior in our house anyway. So I think this was just another thing to add to the toolbox for him of observing things and how he can change his behavior. If he chooses to.
[00:10:49] Daniel Greening: Matt mentioned what is called a knock on effect where he actually started going to the gym, after he had successfully tracked his keys over several days. Were there any changes in Jack's behavior on other things?
[00:11:10] Heather Schenck: To be honest, I think that's a little hard to say because since it's already such a practice in our house
[00:11:16] Mirela Petalli: The fact that he doesn't do that anymore, doesn't seem to bother him or to have affected he's ability to calm himself negatively.
[00:11:25] Heather Schenck: No, I didn't see it get replaced by another habit . And, I have not noticed a change in his behavior. ,
[00:11:31] Daniel Greening: This all started because you were listening to the situation with Matt and having him go through learning to keep track of his keys. And you've still got your husband who is losing his keys. My question is, are you feeling like this experience gave you a greater ability to do what Mirela did, which is to observe and notice, and I mean your husband want to keep track of his keys? Is that a goal?
[00:12:05] Heather Schenck: I do think so. , I could myself potentially trying this now with my husband. think what I would have to work on first though, is maybe spending a few weeks.
[00:12:18] Daniel Greening: At a retreat
[00:12:19] Heather Schenck: Adam
[00:12:21] Daniel Greening: silent retreat.
[00:12:23] Heather Schenck: Hey, that's not a bad idea
[00:12:26] Mirela Petalli: I'm goin to work on my own frustration first.
[00:12:29] Heather Schenck: what you're right. If I tell my husband, Hey, I don't care what happens, he will know that I am lying because I, and I w I don't want to lie.
Right. I want it to be authentic.
[00:12:41] Mirela Petalli: Right. I think it could be approached from another way. How can you tell him that this is an issue? This is causing us to be late. does bother me, but say that. In a loving way, in a non accusatory way?
[00:12:56] Heather Schenck: I think that's a really good point. When I first told him what I was doing with Jack, he was like, this isn't gonna work. was so surprised that it took two days. So I wonder if I kind of like brought that up again. If that would get some buy-in from him, but I to do some inner first.
[00:13:15] Daniel Greening: So you've been on the show before you're in episode four, 95% vegan, a hundred percent happy. I'm curious whether still ninety five% percent and a percent happy.
[00:13:31] Heather Schenck: I am still 95% vegan and a hundred percent happy about it.
[00:13:35] Daniel Greening: that's interesting.
[00:13:37] Mirela Petalli: that's great.
[00:13:39] Daniel Greening: So, you're feeling good. So there's no, no downside, I guess
[00:13:42] Heather Schenck: it's going it's going really well. . It was re like I talked about in that episode, there was a lot of suffering that naturally came with making any big change, but there were a lot of also second arrows and suffering that I was causing myself. In this negative. Self-talk like, I'm different than my family now. I don't belong and that's all gone now. , and it's just become this new habit. We're all still sitting at the dinner table every
[00:14:10] Daniel Greening: every
[00:14:10] Heather Schenck: eating, the same meal, just with a few minor, , substitutions. and it feels great.
[00:14:15] Daniel Greening: Are you ever serving a whole meal that's vegan
[00:14:19] Heather Schenck: Oh yeah, absolutely.
[00:14:21] Daniel Greening: I bet you didn't expect that though.
[00:14:23] Heather Schenck: No, I didn't. So I have to be cautious because my son , is allergic to legumes, which is the main protein source for vegans. So I can't do it super frequently cause I have to have an option for him to, but considering it's only been about nine months since I
made that switch over to a vegan diet. , where we've come to is, fantastic. It's
[00:14:43] Daniel Greening: And the main thing.
[00:14:44] Heather Schenck: there some meals on our table every week are fully and everyone partaking.
[00:14:51] Daniel Greening: I think you may become one of the Kardashians for the Mindful Agility podcast. You your own show
[00:15:00] Heather Schenck: ah ah, that's funny.
[00:15:04] Daniel Greening: Well, it's been great talking to you, Heather, I really appreciate it. I guess we still have to call you Nurse Heather,
[00:15:11] Heather Schenck: Oh yeah.
[00:15:11] Mirela Petalli: Yes.
[00:15:12] Daniel Greening: because
[00:15:12] Heather Schenck: yeah. Right?
[00:15:13] Daniel Greening: there's, still another Heather potentially lurking in the background who may reappear.
[00:15:18] Heather Schenck: I've really enjoyed listening to your podcast. Obviously I'm finding ways to apply it to my own life. So what you guys are doing.
[00:15:25] Mirela Petalli: That's great. Thank you. And you know, you and Jack are the real heroes here.
[00:15:30] Daniel Greening: here.
[00:15:33] Daniel Greening: When I heard Heather say she used the same technique you and Matt used for keys, to help her son stop sucking on his fingers. I felt like we had pushed the ball on a Rube Goldberg machine with the Matt keys episode. And now something unexpected, but delightful, was happening. Like a xylophone was playing a tune or something.
[00:15:59] Mirela Petalli: When I first brought up the idea, I wasn't sure whether Matt would be interested in it at all. We used already known mindfulness and agility concepts to come up with an experiment and it worked. Heather replicating it and being successful makes me very happy.
[00:16:16] Daniel Greening: When we started this podcast, I told everybody we didn't know where we were going with this, other than the idea that agile and mindfulness belonged together. I guess we're sort of pushing them together and watching what happens. Is this where you thought it would go, Mirela?
[00:16:34] Mirela Petalli: It's going much better than I could have ever thought. We are working hard, learning so much and having fun in the process. It is so amazing that what we are doing is being useful and helpful to other people. We still don't know where we are going with this exactly, but we are embracing the journey with openness, curiosity, and a sense of adventure. It's been so much fun working with you, Dan.
[00:16:59] Daniel Greening: Heather has a super mindful family, you know, all that stuff about teaching her children to be aware of their emotions, while they're thinking about acting. You can't always head action off at the pass. But nevertheless, helping kids be aware of emotions is really helpful for self-regulation as they grow older
[00:17:26] Mirela Petalli: Research has shown that teaching children early to start noticing, observing, and naming their emotions builds up emotional literacy and enables them to better regulate their responses to strong emotions. I think Heather's approach to parenting is very skillful. Any family that has dealt with a child sucking on their fingers, knows that guiding them to quitting this habit is really difficult.
Actually I was one of those children. Unfortunately, there weren't many skillful techniques when I was a child. So I had to endure from bribes threats to having both of my thumbs wraps up in bandages all the way to hot pepper As you can imagine. I managed to stop sucking on my fingers, but it was very traumatic. I wish my parents were as mindful and skillful in their approach as Heather was.
[00:18:21] Daniel Greening: it was really interesting when Heather listened to the Matt key episode. Her first thought, of course, was, Can I use this technique to help my husband who keeps losing his keys? But then she stopped and said, Hey. I'm too attached to fixing the problem because I'm so irritated by it. So I don't think I should do that.
That was really interesting.
[00:18:51] Mirela Petalli: When we are too attached to the outcome, we are more likely to react instead of responding skillfully and compassionately. It is not that we shouldn't care at all about the outcome, or we will not take any steps to achieve anything. When we are reactive, we can't be truly supportive or give our best.
When we approached the problem with both mindfulness and agility, we gain a deeper understanding of our motives, our reactivity and our expectations. Then we can work towards achieving the outcome one step at a time. Heather made use of both her own mindfulness practice and what we learned from Matt's experiment with the keys.
[00:19:32] Daniel Greening: Maybe she didn't make the connection with agile, but there is one. When we have a big project, let's say getting Heather's husband to stop losing his keys, it's important to be aware if we're trying to tackle something costly or high risk. When we have a situation like that, smart agile folks will ask What related low cost, low risk project can we do to practice, and learn more? Whether it works or not, it helps us understand all the steps involved. Once we get it right with that low cost, low risk project, we have demonstrated we're capable and trustworthy. And people are more likely to help us with the more costly, higher risk project.
[00:20:26] Mirela Petalli: Cultivating awareness and investigation are things that mindfulness and agility have in common. When we practice both, they reinforce each other and help us achieve our goals faster. And with lower costs. And we experienced less suffering and more contentment in the process.
[00:20:46] Mirela Petalli:
[00:20:46] Mirela Petalli: With his mom's health and guidance, four year old Jack almost completely quit the habit of sucking his fingers in a couple of days. Heather told us that the family had been practicing, noticing, observing and labeling emotions.
Labeling emotions leads to increase the activity in the prefrontal cortex region, the part of our brains that is involved in higher executive functioning, and helps us make decisions. As a result, there is reduced emotion related behavioral effects.
In addition to the practice of observing and labeling emotions, there are three important factors that made this experiment successful. successful.
First, Heather was Jack's mindfulness buddy, reminding him that he had put his fingers in his mouth. Equally important, she was a compassionate buddy, using a playful matter of fact, and non-judgemental attitude. Third, she gave Jack the choice to decide what he wanted to do, once he realized he had put his fingers in his mouth.
I am reminded of the concept of the good enough mother, which is the mother that is close enough, if the child needs her, while being free to explore and play independently. Allowing the child the space to experience agency and autonomy, rather than telling them what to do, is a great example of skillful parenting.
[00:22:11] Daniel Greening: Thanks for joining us in this episode. May we all use mindfulness and agility to build the foundations of a better future. With really good teeth.
[00:22:24] Daniel Greening: Thanks to Heather Schenck for sharing her second mindful agility experiment with us. Matt Zimmerman is our audio engineer. Our co-host and meditation guide is Mirella Petalli.
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You can find written articles on agile and mindfulness at mindfulagility.com/blog. At that same location, you can sign up for a newsletter. If you have an interesting concept for an episode, email us at email@example.com.
Hey Mirela, we've had some great guests on the podcast so far. How'd we get so lucky?
[00:23:14] Mirela Petalli:
Hmm, they're are cheaper than Kim Kardashian
[00:23:17] Daniel Greening: I'm Dan Greening. See you next time.
[00:23:21] Optional Meditation Introduction
[00:23:21] Daniel Greening: If you're still with us, Mirela will guide an optional 10 minute meditation to help us identify and label emotions. Recent psychological research shows this improves self-regulation, reduces reactivity, and increases our observation skills.
[00:23:39] Daniel Greening: Here we go.
[00:23:41] Mirela Petalli:
Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today.
In today's meditation, we will work with noticing and labeling our emotions.
We'll use mindfulness , curiosity, compassion, and a nonjudgmental attitude to get to know how our emotions arise, manifest in our bodies, change, and then pass away.
This practice will help us become less reactive and more skillful in dealing with positive, neutral, or difficult emotions.
Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
You can close your eyes or keep them slightly open.
Let's start by taking a few deep, slow breaths.
Take a deep breath in through your nose.
Fill your lungs with air.
Relax your belly.
And then let the air out slowly through your nose.
See, if you can relax your body a little bit more with each out-breath.
Now allow your breath to return to normal.
Focus your attention on your breath where you feel it most, your nostrils, chest, or a belly.
We'll use the breath as an anchor. A place to come back to and ground us. .
Let's take a minute to focus on the breath.
If you get distracted, either by thoughts ,sounds, sensations ,feelings, or emotions,
notice it without judgment and gently return your focus to the breath.
We will now pay attention to any emotions that might arise.
at any point you feel too uncomfortable or overwhelmed feel free to stop the meditation, take a few deep breaths, and open your eyes.
When you notice a new emotion, label it.
It is important that we use language that doesn't identify us with the emotion.
Instead of saying, I am happy, we say: I feel happiness
instead of saying I am anxious, we say: I feel anxiety.
Instead of saying I am angry, we say: I feel anger.
When we don't identify with the emotion we create a distance, and in this way we don't allow the emotion to overwhelm us.
There might be many emotions coming and going. Observe them with curiosity and label them without judgment.
If nothing comes up that's okay too. Just keep your focus on the breath and maintain an attitude of openness and curiosity.
Now see if you can narrow your focus on the most predominant emotion you are noticing right now.
What does it feel like?
Where do you feel it in or around your body?
When you notice an emotion, locate it, label it, hold space for it, and then allow it to pass
let's take two minutes and label any emotions as they arise.
Now let go of the practice and return your attention to your body.
Notice how you feel without judgment.
And whenever you're ready, you can open your eyes if they were closed.
Thank you for taking the time to meditate with us today.
[00:35:14] Micro Closing
[00:35:14] Daniel Greening: You can find all our meditations as a separate podcast by searching for Mindful Agility Meditations on your favorite podcast app.
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