School Nutrition Leaders Share Positive Self-Talk Approaches

In its August 2021 issue, School Nutrition explored ways to transform a demoralizing inner critic to an empowering inner coach. Author Jennifer Lewi, CAE, SNA Staff Vice President of Membership and Professional Development and a trained professional coach, reached out to several school nutrition leaders for their thoughts on this topic. Below, discover their helpful advice.

Warren DeShields, Director, SNA Board of Directors; Director, Bridgeton Public Schools, Bridgeton, N.J.

My #KeepPushing motto—which I share on most communications—is all about listening to that inner voice in both good and bad situations. When you reach a goal or level that you have set for yourself, don't rest and be satisfied...#KeepPushing. When things are dark and just don't seem to go the way you'd like them to...#KeepPushing. We have the power to control that inner voice; the way you do that is through gratitude. In short, being thankful to yourself for the successes that you have achieved. Not comparing where you are to someone else and their achievements…#KeepPushing

Timikel Sharpe, MS, Executive Director of School Nutrition, Bibb County School District, Macon, Ga.
Hum and Drum
When facing the adversities and challenges of an ever-changing world—and my school nutrition environment—I try to make a point to just stop for a few minutes and reflect. But I don’t sit silently! I hum, drum my hands on my desk, shake my shaker or turn on some music. The music and vibrations calm my spirit and prepare me to move on through the tasks of the day. It helps to remind me that I am where I am for a purpose.

Christine Clarahan, MS, RDN, SNS, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, School City of Hammond, Hammond, Ind.
Multiple Strategies for Multiple Feelings
Like many high-achieving millennial women, I have been dealing with an inner critic for the majority of my life. I would love to report that I turned that critic into a coach all by myself, that’s not what happened. I am a huge proponent of taking care of your mental health and taking advantage of a professional counselor, therapist or coach. Having a professional person to talk to in a confidential setting is good for every aspect of your life—including work. There are other tools and strategies that I use, as well:
  • I keep a “Smiles” folder in my email to save all the “happy” emails I receive, compliments and encouragement from parents and staff. If I am feeling especially down, I re-read these to remind myself of my purpose and the fact that I have done a lot of good in the community.
  • I keep a small notebook on hand to jot down my feelings when anxiety begins to creep up. Example: I’m never going to get all these special diets done, plus XYZ and the department will completely fall apart!” I don’t filter my thoughts—I write out exactly what the inner critic is saying. But then, I read it back to myself, through a lens of someone outside the situation. I almost always make myself laugh at how dramatic I sound! And the fresh perspective makes things seem more manageable.
  • When I am overwhelmed at work—and it’s a physical feeling—I find a quiet spot, sit up straight, with my feet on the ground, close my eyes and take deep, slow breaths. I focus on the sounds around me, the chirping of birds, the hum of chatter from people nearby. As my heart rate slows, I am able to remind myself that in this very moment, I am doing absolutely fine. There is a roof over my head, I am nourished, I can prioritize what must be done.
  • I connect with my cheerleaders, those, like my mom, who know me well enough to challenge me and when to just listen. I also rely on an awesome group of other Northwest Indiana foodservice directors to be supported by someone who knows exactly what I’m facing. Good cheerleaders know to remind you that you are doing great things.
Jessica Shelly, MBA, SNS, REHS, Director, Student Dining Services, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH
“This, Too, Shall Pass”

Whenever I am up against something that just is so incredibly daunting and overwhelming, I recite, "This, too, shall pass” as a mantra. It is something my Dad taught me very early in life. You've got to know that there is light on the other side of whatever mountain you are climbing. It's taking one step at a time, believing that everything happens for a reason, and trying to learn from the process.

In 2010, OK Go, one of my favorite bands from my Chicago hometown, released a song called “This Too Shall Pass.” The refrain is its own mantra: “Let it go, this too shall pass….you know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down….” It’s on every playlist I have! I also love the full music video,, because it shows exactly how you just have to keep going, no matter how impossible the next step seems.

Chris Derico, SNS, SNA Vice President, Child Nutrition Director, Harrison County School District, Clarksburg, W.Va.
“Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up”

I think we all have to have that positive attitude. Each day must begin with a positive approach. Of course, even with a positive attitude, we can all encounter a run of bad luck and things not going our way. This is when our inner critic tries to get the best of us.

On those occasions, I turn to an inspirational speech, motivational book or even to music that has had an impact on me. One example, and probably the one I go to the most, is a speech by legendary North Carolina State University men’s college basketball coach Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards, which recognize individual and team athletic achievements. Ten years earlier, Valvano led his team, considered major underdogs, to win the NCAA Tournament Championship.

At the time of his award, Valvano had been diagnosed with cancer and passed away less than two months later. In his 11-minute speech,, in which he recounts key motivational messages, Valvano’s bottom line advice is “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up.” If you’ve never heard this speech, I do recommend you take the time and click on the link.

Danielle Bock, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services, Greeley-Evans School District, Greely, Colo.
Just Be Me

There is a lot of stuff that I need to tell myself in order to keep feelings of "imposter syndrome" at bay, but at the top of the list is a 2012 TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who addresses imposter syndrome and other aspects of insecurity and anxiety by using body language, posture and inner coaching to change your attitude and the direction of your life ( “Fake it until you become it,” she advises.

Cuddy’s talk speaks to me, as she addresses channeling inner positivity. I believe the real secret to happiness is tied to your ability to be authentic. So when my inner critic starts warning me about all the things I “cannot” do, I jump in with both feet, maintain my curiosity and positive expectations and tell myself to “just be me.”

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