One of my colleagues, David Bott, and I recently spent a week together training a whole school faculty in Positive Education. The headmaster notably remarked:
“We may be primed, we may be inclined but we still need voices of experience to show us how to use this science.”
I love the mindset demonstrated here. It takes role modelling from leaders and teachers to help students develop the skills to manage their wellbeing.
On September 20th, 23rd and 24th, my team will be in California delivering our Introduction to Positive Education workshop.
If you think your school isn’t part of the problem, you’re wrong. If you have 20 students in a class, 5 are suffering from some type of mental health issue. Positive Education is a proactive way to equip students and staff with the skills not only to cope and manage, but to flourish
I recently spent 4 days with Positive Psychology practitioners from around the world sharing new research and applications from our field. Almost 1600 from around the globe flocked to Melbourne to converse and connect. Each day was informative in new ways and there were many opportunities to cement and integrate current applications to our Positive Education model. My top 5 takeways include:
1. There is a happiness microbiome
Professor John Cryan taught us all a new word, psychobiotic. Cryan’s research looks at targeting gut health through individualized microbiomes. Cryan reminded us that the brain/gut connection is not new research, in fact Hippocrates’ believed that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. His talk touched on prebiotics and fecal transplants and I am excited to see what will come next from his labs. His reminder to us all “Mind your microbes”.
2. There are multiple happiness genes
Meike Bartels delivered a jam packed talk that showed the progression of the search for the genetic components of happiness. The good news, although there is definately a genetic component to happiness, you control your genes. They do not determine your happiness. A large-scale international study of over 298,000 people, isolated the parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how humans experience happiness. First there were 3 specific genomes identified, then 300 and Meike shared her belief that we will eventually discover thousands. The big idea- heritability does not limit chance of happiness. There is most likely a genetic predisposition to be more or less happier. The environment impacts this. Ultimately our genes will influence what types of interventions and practices are most effective- a one-size-fits-all approach just won’t work.
3. Positive technology shows that not all tech is bad.
Lyle Unger from UPenn gave a fabulous talk about technology that supports happiness. In this age of stress and anxiety there is a lot of commentary about the impact of technology on mental health. I have always been a believer that technology is just a magnifier of an individual- it can boost or deplete wellbeing depending on what app and how you use it. Unger’s work supported my belief. The session also reminded us to be cautious in our interpretation of data. Perhaps the individual drawn to apps that deplete wellbeing are already languishing when they start using the app. We cannot blame technology. Personally, I use Insight Timer and listen to Podcasts daily. I loved this talk because it was based on what is right with technology (similar to our strengths-based way of working in Positive Education)
4. The research won’t help without business support.
Gabriella Rosen-Kellerman chaired a session on industry partnerships in the behavioral sciences. I wasn’t sure what it would be about but when I saw the panel that included Martin Seligman, Roy Baumeister and Sonja Lyubomirsky, I knew I was in for a treat. Gabriella represents BetterUp, a fabulous tech group out of San Fran who combining the latest advances in scientific research with digital technologies transforming people and workplaces. Gabriella reminded us that research means nothing without application. BetterUp is set to invest $15-20 million in its lab over the next five years because they know people are a company’s biggest investment. And if the lab can provide the evidence-based practices that can help people flourish, the return might be mind-boggling. I am hopeful to see an app for educators in the near future!
5. The second wave is cresting.
Michael Steger, Tim Lomas, Ryan Niemiec, and, Itai Ivtzan shared their thoughts on the second wave of Positive Psychology.– whose focus is more holistic – encompassing both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. We were reminded that a fish is only as healthy as the water it swims in. The context and system both matter in wellbeing. The panel hilighted the importance of increasing the level of nuance and perspective to further our understanding of human flourishing.
As you may know, the OECD does a lot of work studying education – especially in the area of predicting challenges to of the future of education. As Bob Snowden, founder of the Futures Project said in a recent conversation “OECD’s recent research indicates that the top priority in schools over the next 10-15 years won’t be one of the academic priorities as you might expect, but wellbeing.” Those of us working in the Positive Education space don’t find this surprising. We see first-hand the benefits of placing wellbeing at the heart of education, of flipping conventional wisdom placing the so called “soft-skills” to becoming the priority (feels like eating dessert first doesn’t it?) The level of stress, depression and anxiety that continues to climb in Canada, U.S., Australia and other countries of similar economic stability is a source of much confusion. When we don’t have a real problem like safety, getting enough food, or avoiding disease why is it that we don’t thrive? Why then is it so hard to take students from surviving to thriving?
One idea is that the goals students are setting, either on their own or with help of caring guidance teams parents and teachers are a root. PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) has done international research that showed students who are more motivated also have greater anxiety. “Motivation seems to be more closely linked to anxiety when it is imposed by others. Students who feel undue pressure to meet the expectations of their parents or teachers, or who constantly compare themselves with others, may feel tenser and more anxious. Conversely, PISA data show that when motivation is intrinsic – when it comes from a student’s own desire to be the best that he or she can be – students may feel slightly less anxious.” We need to figure out ways of ensuring that students motivation is led by their own curiosity and meaning rather than taking on the motivation of their peers (“I applied to Stanford and Harvard”) their parents (“wouldn’t medicine be a great option for you?”) or their past performance (you should keep taking History, it’s your top subject”).
Another challenge is comparison. Recently Instagram has experimented with removing an anxiety provoking feature from its platform in Canada. The social media leader has often been accused of creating a platform where teens compare the messy unedited version of their own lives to other teens’ highly edited and curated highlight reels.
Parents are quick to point our that the rise in technology use coincides with the rise in teen depression and anxiety. I believe that technology, like money, is an amplifier of who you really are. If a student is disengaged, disconnected, and distracted the removal of technology doesn’t change these traits, Of course there are appropriate developmental guidelines from a neuroscience standpoint, but we cannot blame technology for a lack of appropriate psychological attachment. As attachment theory expert Dr, Gordon Neufeld writes “Technology is a wonderful thing: it can be used in amazing ways to enhance life, but it can also create huge problems if structures are not defined around how it is going to fit into healthy development and family life, particularly with our young. “
According to Dr. Shani Robins of Stanford, wisdom skills like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, empathy & compassion, humility, gratitude and realism must be taught. These are skills that students need to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism, comparison, overgeneralization and catastrophizing that lead to mental illbeing. Check out this fabulous video about the wellbeing continuum.
Think Differently and Your Anxiety Changes
Dr. Ellen Hendrickson has fabulous tips for people who experience debilitating levels of anxiety. She reminds us that the positive features that often accompany social anxiety like extreme empathy, inclusiveness, deep connection in relationships are all still there when anxiety is avoided. Alternately, the opposite of social anxiety is psychopathy (not confidence) so those who experience zero anxiety are not very emotionally healthy! One technique she uses that I love is to personify your inner critic. In fact, I love having kids think about what their mean inner voice might look like. Some see a monster, a dark-fanged nightmare ghoul. Mine looks more like this:
Hendrickson also recommends anxiety Madlibs, a really cool technique to get to the heart of your anxiety. By making it seem like a game it can feel less personal. Use this statement:
When I ______, it will become obvious that I _______
When I put my hand up in class, it will become obvious that I am not smart
When I walk alone in the hall, it will become obvious that I am a loser without friends
When I go to a dinner party, it will become obvious that I am a boring person.
Once you have the obvious blank filled in you can
realize it’s not true,
realize it might be true and have a strategy
ask what’s the worst thing that can happen and think about how to cope if it comes true
I wish these were my words. They came from Mark Turner, the new head of my sons’ school. They are the words that convinced me he is awesome.
He was talking to parents at our school and explaining that after students have forgotten the history of Canadian pioneers and the Pythagorean theorem, the lessons we sometimes call soft skills will be what remains. These are the parts of education that are truly important to a student’s success and happiness.
This lesson was reinforced when we held a research event on campus at Geelong Grammar School that included 2 current grade 12 students and 2 students in their 3rd year of university. When asked about their experience of Positive Education classes at the school all four agreed that despite moments of resistance (that included eye-rolls and groans about gratitude letters and mindfulness) they all use what they learned in “Pos Ed class” every single day.
One of the great challenges in the field of Positive Education is telling people what it is in a simple sentence. I often find myself saying “it’s difficult to define and easy to do”. This video from my colleagues at Flourish Dx is a really good beginning! It talks about empowering people to be mentally healthy. “Beacuse mentally healthy workplaces work better” Take a peek…
Want to learn more about increasing wellbeing at home, at school or at work? Contact me.
I love Esther Perel. Her podcast Where Should We Begin gives an inside look as real couples navigate their relationship issues that seem largely centered around sex. When I heard she was speaking at SXSW about workplace relationships my curiosity as a positive psychology practitioner was piqued. How would sex therapy translate to organizational wellbeing? An organization’s wellbeing depends on the same domains as individual wellbeing:
Her talk titled What Business Leaders Can Learn About Workplace Dynamics from Couples Therapy is all about navigating relationships and cultivating relational fluency which, according to Perel, is equally important at home and at work. Here’s a brief summary of Esther’s key points. I highly recommend watching the entire talk.
Each of us carries specific narratives which guide our needs and expectations – how we connect to others, how we define trust, and how we engage or avoid conflict. Most importantly, these inner stories determine how we communicate and elicit curiosity and collaboration. We don’t magically become different people when we walk into our office. Once considered a “soft skill” in the workplace, relational intelligence is now one of the top currencies of business success. Her question to us:
How much are we investing in our relationships at work
Esther points out that
65% of start ups fail due to relationship issue between founders
The quality of our relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and our overall ability to success.
Unlike performance, relationships are hard to measure, sustain, and repair.
Relational intelligence refers to:
Our ability to connect with others
How we connect and form trust
How we engage in or avoid conflict
Some parallels between relationships at home and at work
The rise of expectations- never before have we expected so much from our career or our partner. We want flexibility, we want our workplace to be attentive to our wellbeing and we want our jobs to help us find a sense of meaning and purpose (pretty tall order!)
We now bring emotional capital into the workplace. We are encouraging emotions at the workplace. Authenticity, trust, belonging, transparency and psychological safety are common workplace discussions
We have shifted from a production economy to a service economy. We no longer go to work to put bread on the table, we work to fulfill ourselves.
Every relationship deals with
Autonomy and interdependence
Conflict management and communication
Self- awareness and accountability
We all grow up with a relational culture. Our beliefs about what we can expect from people form the lens through which we view our relationships at work.
Were relationships central to life?
Do you believe that you are the only one you can rely on in this world?
Every system from living ecosystems to families to organizational systems is balancing:
Commitment and freedom
Stability & change
Togetherness & individuality
Often in a relationship there is one person who is more in touch with a fear of losing the other and one more afraid of losing themselves. The one afraid of abandonment will be eager to please and quick to give in, The other will be stubborn and afraid of giving in.
Every relationship involves both explicit and implicit communication.
Power and control
Care and Recognition
Under relational impasses it is often not what is being talked about bit the power struggles for power, recognition
THE GOLDEN RULE- If you want to change the other, start by changing yourself.