The Way to TuRN When Life Happens: Deborah Shapiro at TEDxYouth@GDRHS (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Deborah Shapiro’s TEDx Talk: The Way to TuRN When Life Happens at TEDxYouth@GDRHS conference.


All right, so in preparation for this talk, I asked high-school students to tell me what makes them feel angry. As I read a few of their responses, I invite you to read along.

Oh, turn it on! Thank you. There we go. I invite you to read along with the lens of an English teacher, which you just heard. I’ve been, and see what one thing they all have in common. “When people judge you, and they don’t even know you.” “The amount of homework we have, making it hard to get to sleep and do anything besides sports and homework”. “When my parents overreact,” or “get mad over something I have no control over” “School – when people don’t do their fair share of work” “Feeling unwanted or not included”.

So, what one thing do these five responses have in common? Remember: English teacher lens. Here’s what I say when I read these – and, actually, what each and every one of these five responses, as well as the 90 responses I received – what they all had in common was they were all nouns.

Do you remember nouns? – People, places, things. And if you were to ask any person what makes them feel any emotion, the answer would be the same: people, places, and things. And while I find this kind of cool, to know that we have this in common, I also find it disconcerting, because if people, places, and things have the potential to make us feel angry, afraid, or otherwise upset, and we generally don’t have control over what people, places, and things show up in our lives, then, essentially, we can feel at their mercy, and powerless to them. We can feel like little boats at sea that get tossed and tussled by rough winds above and choppy waters below. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

No matter what life’s winds and waves bring, our boats can remain upright and steady. This is the focus of my talk tonight. By the time this talk is over, you will know how to use a little three-part mnemonic to help you feel better and be better, no matter what people, places, and things show up in your life.

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And the mnemonic that you can turn to – get it? –  when life tosses and turns you, actually plays off the word “turn” where T stands for “True”, R stands for “Review”, and N stands for “New”. Now, the first, “True,” may come as news to you, because it goes against what we think.

People, places, and things do not cause us to feel the way we do. They are not the rough winds and choppy waters that seem to have the power to knock us around and capsize our boats. We are not at the mercy of them. So, if people, places, and things do not cause us to feel the way we do, then what does? This is what’s true. Our beliefs about people, places, and things do cause us to feel the way we do.

I’ll repeat that. Our beliefs about people, places, and things cause us to feel the way we do. I’m taking this idea from the renowned American psychologist, Albert Ellis, who observed that our beliefs about external events, but not the external events themselves, affect us. So, for example, let’s say you get a bad grade and feel either angry or afraid. It’s not the bad grade that makes you feel the way you do, it’s your belief about the bad grade that does.

So, if you believe that this bad grade was unfair because the test questions were unfair, then you are likely going to feel angry. However, if you believe that the test grade will devastate your class average, or make your parents angry, then you’re likely to feel afraid.

Here is the final true: you have the power, we have the power, to choose our beliefs. This one is probably the most difficult one to accept, because, generally, we’re not even aware that we have beliefs, that our minds shoot so quickly from what happens to how we feel, that we don’t even notice the beliefs that exist in the space between the two. Even so, we do have the power to choose our beliefs, and because our beliefs cause our feelings, we essentially have the power to choose how we feel.

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To reiterate this point, I turn to the neurologist, psychiatrist, and the author of “Man’s search for meaning,” Viktor Frankl, who said, “between stimulus and response there is this space.” In this space lies our power to choose our beliefs. I picture this like a sandwich – this is really how I see it. So, the top slice of bread is what happens, and the bottom slice of bread is like our feelings. In the space between the two is our beliefs, our power to choose our response.

I want you to notice that that middle space, that’s the meat of the sandwich; the substance, what’s important. Beliefs are so important. So, making this same point is coach Lou Holtz. His words, the words you are going to see in a moment, hang in the study of my home. He said that life is just a little 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it.

Again, in other words, our beliefs are so important. They make up a whopping 90% of how we experience life. Essentially, our beliefs shape the quality and substance of our life. So, you know you have the power to choose, but how do you do this when your mind shoots so quickly; again, from what happens to how you feel, that you don’t take notice of the beliefs? Sometimes, you don’t even notice that something has happened. You generally just recognize when you’re feeling lousy, when you’re feeling angry, or upset, or otherwise unsettled.

So, when you find yourself at that bottom layer of the sandwich feeling any of those feelings: anger, or fear, or in any way upset, this is your opportunity to turn back to the TuRN mnemonic and to use it. So, once you know what’s true, it’s time to review.

The first thing that you review are what I call go-to beliefs. These are the beliefs that your mind automatically and subconsciously go to when something happens. Next, you review other possible and plausible, alternate beliefs to the go-to belief.

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So I want you to think back for a moment to the example I gave about receiving a bad test grade. I highlighted two different, possible, plausible beliefs for what happened, and each belief led to a different feeling. My point is that you can have other possible, plausible, alternate beliefs. You’re not stuck with your go-to belief. Just because you thought it, it doesn’t mean it’s yours and you have to stay with it.

So, I want to share with you an example: I want you to imagine that you have a friend named John, and you’ve been texting John all day, “Hey, do you want to hang out tonight?” “Hey, how come you’re not returning my texts?” And by the end of the evening you are feeling angry. What happened is John didn’t return your text, and you feel angry. So, there you are, you’re feeling angry, and you remember this is an opportunity for me to use TuRN.

So, let’s go back for a second. You first remember what’s true; you’re not angry because John didn’t return your text, you’re angry because of a belief you have about him not returning your text, and you have the power to change your belief.

Then you review: what’s my go-to belief here? It could be the belief that John is ignoring me, and he shouldn’t ignore me, and that’s making me feel angry. Then you review other possible, plausible, alternate beliefs. You could believe that John is busy: he had practice, he has homework, he has family obligations. Or you can choose to believe that John’s phone needs to be charged. Either one of these beliefs is possible and plausible, and both leave you feeling better.

One caveat here, so one thing to note in terms of review. Sometimes, when you’re reviewing, you may not be able to think of another better belief. And if this happens – – Shoot! – if this happens you have to ask yourself: Is this something I should accept or something I should change? if the go-to belief and the feeling are what is most realistic and authentic for you in this moment, then you should not change it.

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