);
1-250-514-8459 tamara@posminds.com
Why Well-Being at School is the Elephant in the Classroom

Why Well-Being at School is the Elephant in the Classroom

The Problem

We all know that well-being (social intelligence, mindfulness, self-regulation, grit, resilience, etc.) are important.  Mental health is the number one issue in schools today as identified by our teachers, principals, superintendents, directors of education and trustees according to the Ontario School Board in 2013.[1] The epidemic of anxiety, stress, and teen depression is alarming. We are expecting this generation of students to change the world, yet we aren’t giving them all the tools they will need to be successful.

Right now, many schools are making great strides towards changing this. Across Canada we see mindfulness programs introduced, growth mindset curriculum launched, and psychology topics like gratitude and grit being applauded and encouraged.

Despite these massive efforts, mental well-being remains a tricky topic. How much is needed? (More) If you talk about it too much can it make it worse rather than better? (Yes) Are some methods more effective than others? (Absolutely!)

Let’s start by defining exactly what’s needed. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

When an individual grows or develops in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment it’s called flourishing.

We’re aiming for well-being so students and staff can flourish.

Another Little Problem

Most schools are teaching tools. Gratitude is a tool. Growth mindset is a tool. Getting enough sleep is a mental health tool. Social capital is also a tool. But what if the students, and let’s face it the staff too, what if they are given the entire toolkit but they don’t have the blueprint to know what they are making with these tools?

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Abraham Maslow

 

It’s time to give both teachers and students a blueprint to go with their tools. Every problem doesn’t need a hammer.

 

One More Problem

Everyone wants to know how their child’s school ranks on standardized test scores and rankings like the Fraser Institute School Rankings for Canadian schools. School blogs, magazines, administration, students and their families all broadcast how many students got accepted to an Ivy school but nobody is talking about how many students, both those too overcome by their stress and depression to be successful and those coping with massive amount of depression, stress, and anxiety and still appearing successful,  are eventually falling prey to the lack of balance in their lives. Is it really success to land a place at Stanford or Harvard and drop out second semester? Is it a success to practice grit through med school only to have a massive breakdown and never practice medicine? Defining success to include well-being and balance is key. Research says that success and productivity drop off after 55 hours of work in a week. Many students, whose work includes not only their time in class and their homework but also their extra-curricular sports, clubs and volunteer hours are just depleted physically and mentally.

What Do Schools Need?

We cannot expect teachers to be experts at mental well-being. It wasn’t part of their bachelor’s degree in education curriculum and even if they have an area of professional development beyond their degree requirements, that only provides their students with a really useful tool. Without the entire school system continuing to teach these skills until they are embedded fully into a child’s default brain system, it just isn’t enough. It’s like watering a plant really well for one year and expecting it to thrive. Is it even the school’s role? Some believe that parents should be the primary source of well-being education. Let’s assume that we can all agree that kids with more positive emotion and less mental deficit are better students- they can be more engaged, focused, and successful (and research shows this is true). It would seem counterintuitive for schools to not deliver well-being education.

Well-Being education needs to be:

Measurable

When something is quantifiable it allows us to know if it is working. It stops time and dollars from being wasted on curriculum, speakers, and lessons that aren’t makinga positive impact. How can you measure well-being? Until recently it hasn’t really been easy to do unless your school is part of a research program or study. Who had time to measure and what exactly was being measured? Recent innovations like the Flourishing at School by People Diagnostic out of Australia are changing this. This innovative cloud-based software solution uses a survey as an indicator of mental health, useful for proactive wellbeing interventions at both an individual and collective level. uses a positive psychology approach to assess the degree to which individuals have developed the “pillars” of good mental health to stay well and optimise quality of life.

Proactive

Children can learn to recognize the difference between useful stress and dangerous levels of stress. They are quite capable of turning a negative downward spiral around. They are also able to form social connections with supportive peers and adults who can be mentors. Starting early teaching tools and providing a blueprint for mental wellness is important. School counselors are overwhelmed dealing with the problems and have very little time to help prevent the problems. If schools put well-being as one of the basic required skills for all students, we can prevent the epidemic of poor mental health from continuing.

Embedded

Conversations about mental health more public than ever. Movements like WE Day have made strides in taking topics that used to be hidden into mainstream media and everyday conversation. Talking about suicide, bullying, cutting, and eating disorders is no longer taboo yet talking alone isn’t enough. A whole school model like Geelong Grammar School’s Learn, Live, Teach, Embed model opens conversations, teaches science-backed skills and fosters wellness across an entire community. Until everyone across a campus (parents too) has the same language and understanding of wellness, the depth required to impact community mental health cannot be reached.

Individualized

Wellness is unique. Everyone’s blueprint is slightly different. There are seven domains proven to impact long-term happiness, success, and resilience according to recent research. The tools to boost an individual’s experience of each domain are universal. The blueprint, however, must be customized to match motivation, age, and habit formation tendency.

The problems around delivering well-being at school haven’t changed. But the number of tools available and experts willing to assist is growing. If your school needs help designing and implementing a program, ask for expert help from Positive Minds International and our team of experts or your local positive psychology practitioner.

 

 

[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/586814ae2e69cfb1676a5c0b/t/5894ceede58c62b3280ff685/1486147328328/Leading-Mentally-Health-Schools.pdf

Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Unlike many things in the positive psychology realm, worry is quite easy to define. Worry is a chain of negative thoughts about the same or different topics that can have negative consequences for you in the future if a solution is not reached. Worrying is future thinking worst-case scenario planning and it leads to catastrophic levels of anxiety.
It’s the “what if” thoughts that suck us into worry and anxiety. We’re allowing our imagination to become unleashed and creating multiple bad scenarios of what might happen. When my children were little the only rule we regularly followed in our home was no “what if” questions.
“What if” questions are fine if you are using them to create a plan. For example, if you think “what if my car breaks down and I don’t have anybody to call” then you make the plan of buying roadside assistance your what if was useful. It leads you to productive problem-solving.
When worry isn’t helpful is when it escalates to crisis mongering, a term psychologists have coined to describe worrying that keeps spiraling out of control without stopping. It the “what if I am all alone in my car breaks down and nobody comes and it’s cold and there’s a snowstorm and my phone dies” sort of thinking that is not at all helpful in resolving potential future problems or obstacles.
Worry comes from fear. Psychologist Susan Jeffers teaches 5 truths about fear.
1) fear accompanies growth
2) action is the way out of fear
3) every time you move past fear you get greater self-confidence
4) you are not the only one who gets scared
5)  pushing through fear is less frightening over the long run than the feeling of helplessness that accompanies inaction
Worrying about the future doesn’t help you to be a better problem solver, in fact, it induces that fight or flight stress state and impairs your rational thinking.
There’s always an exception to the rule and this exception is when you are in an immediate life-threatening short-term situation. If I’m going to step out onto a busy street when worry kicks in and says maybe I shouldn’t do that without looking both ways, it is useful.

For Kids

According to Lynn Lyons; child anxiety expert, one big problem that happens when children don’t learn how to deal with their worry is it predicts anxiety and depression later in life. In general children today seem to have the ability to cope with more stress than any previous generation. The fact they are coping so well leads parents and educators to think that a child is doing fine when, in fact, they are on the edge of overwhelm. What can adults do to help?
  • stop the use of words that catastrophize like always, never, nobody, and everybody
  • allow them to take a movement breaks-the flood of stress chemicals that your brain sends out when your body is worried make it really hard to think to act well and to make good decisions so encourage a little shake it off moment helps
  • model appropriate stress responses by saying “I’m feeling stressed- let’s take a break” or “this is hard, let’s take a couple of deep breaths before we continue”
  • take a mindful moment– mindfulness and meditation directly counteract all the physical stress responses

At Work

What about at work there are some things that do deserve a little worry?
  • designate a time- a limited duration where you actually give yourself permission to worry but when it’s over it’s over you need to stop
  • hire a lawyer (not literally) but imagine you were presenting your worry case to a judge. Play the role of the opposition and see what the other side would say. Allow yourself to play devil’s advocate to your own worry system and maybe, in the end, it won’t seem like you’ve got so much to worry about
  • if you can’t worry less, worry more- waaay more. Make your worst-case scenario absolutely ridiculous. Allow that snowball of worries to keep going until it’s so big that it’s obvious it’s not real- it’s all in your head

I come from a long line of worriers. If worrying was a sport my family would have some gold medals! The thing is, worriers sometimes feel like their worry on your behalf is useful (it isn’t). They also think that a caring person should worry about others (they shouldn’t). Your worry is zapping your joy and limiting your ability to engage in life. Every moment you are worried about the future you are missing whatever is happening in the present. I often equate worrying to paying the interest before you have the loan. Decide it’s time to stop worrying. you’ll thank yourself!

If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. ~Don Herold

 

How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

A positive work environment is one where employees feel good about coming to work and have motivation that sustains them throughout the workday. What they do matters. And more importantly, it matters that they are the ones doing the work. With the new emphasis on work/life balance (thanks Millenials!) a juggling act between fulfilling the personal needs of employees and getting the job done can be an organization’s key challenge.
Positive psychology differentiates two types of positive work environments showing that not all positves are equal. The first uses positive organizational behavior;  where the environment is organization driven to increase well-being with a goal of getting the best out of employees for the benefit of the workplace. The second is called positive organizational scholarship and although this title might lead you to believe its’ focus is the study of positivity, it’s actually about getting the best out of an organization for the benefit of the employees. This well-being model recognizes that employees aren’t stupid- they can see the difference between a boss who really wants them to be healthy and one who doesn’t want the production decline that accompanies sick days.
The resources in any office can be broken into the physical, the psychological/social, or organizational aspects. Every type of employee training will fall into a category of:
  • being functional in achieving work goals
  • reducing job demands and associated physiological and psychological costs
  •  stimulating personal growth and development
Although the third option speaks more about an individual than a worker we know that individuals with higher levels of well-being and positivity are more productive, creative, workers who miss less time due to work-related stress and burnout and are more productive.
A positive organization isn’t only training you in the hard skills (impact work productivity directly like training on a new software program) but also on the soft skills,  interpersonal skills which affect the morale of the organization.
Looking at an individual workers’ strengths specifically through the lens of the VIA classification of character strengths we know that individuals who cultivate their strengths are happier and more successful than those whose primary focus is improving areas of weakness.
In business,team leaders, managers, or coaches with specialized training can be deployed to help cultivate strengths. Once the strengths have been cultivated it leads to four key qualities:
  •  self-efficacy
  • optimism
  • hope
  • resilience
A strengths focused worker has confidence to take on the roles they need and to succeed at challenging tasks. They make positive contributions toward goals, they persevere, and even when setbacks occur they bounce back and work with resilience to attain success.

We know from thought leaders like Simon Sinek and this TED talk, that aligning with purpose is important. If you can’t get a member of your team to see their role as important and meaningful it’s hard to keep them engaged.

Sinek’s talk led to much conversation about whether you’re at a job (making money without connection to a personal sense of meaning), a career (a route to achievement),  or a calling ( intrinsically fulfilling).

Mental wellness comes from a harmonious relationship between one’s work identity and the other identities you choose. An animal rights activist couldn’t work for a pharmaceutical company who tests on lab animals. In an ideal world we would all do jobs that incite curiosity,  have us spending  time in a state of engagement or flow and that reward us both intrinsically and financially.

Want to know if your work is truly positive? Try this psychometric scale called the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale.

.

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life.  In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness.  Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a  french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about  actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders.  In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out.  Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Set up a free account to save your quiz scores and track your progress over time.

Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion

1. Notice the feelings

2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?

3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.

 

If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.

Equation2Thrive #What’s Your Equation?

Equation2Thrive #What’s Your Equation?

The 2018 World Positive Education Accelerator combined the science of positive education & David Cooperrider‘s appreciative inquiry methods with a goal of making a quantum leap in the ways positive education impacts academics and well-being around the world.

Positive Education uses individual strengths and personal motivation to promote learning. 

There’s a ton of research on what it takes to live a happy and meaningful life. There was a strong agreement from all the experts in attendance including Martin Seligman,  Lea Waters and Angela Duckworth that we can do more to promote wellness.

The AI model is a method of design that looks like this:

Through this process, 1200 stakeholders including academics, educators, students, and parents participated in a highly creative process dreaming of a new future.

What positive psychology experts agree on is that when we take away all mental illness and all mental distress we still don’t have mental wellness.

We are not flourishing or thriving.

The Equation2thrive movement was one of many actions born from this process.

Our goal was bringing awareness to every individual’s personal ability to recognize and actualize their individual equation to thrive.

My personal belief is in an overarching equation that can be used every single day by every single person. It looks something like this:

The social media movement encourages individuals to reflect on their equation. It can be different every day. Sometimes you need relaxation + refection while at other times you need conversation + activity. The great thing is that there is no wrong answer.

In summary, I will leave you with the statement our team designed as well as a simple call to action.

Equation2thrive is a global movement leveraging the multiplier of positive education, spotlighting an individual’s unique potential to live a connected and meaningful life. From influencers to classrooms, carpool conversations and boardrooms all the way to the United Nations, we want everyone to know your equation matters We leave you with a simple question #what’s your equation

Please reflect, make a short video like the one below and post it on your social feeds #equation2thrive #whatsyourequation

The Connection Between Mindfulness & Happiness

The Connection Between Mindfulness & Happiness


Mindfulness is everywhere. Lewis Howes is doing it. Gretchen Rubin isn’t. It made Dan Harris 10% Happier and it’s part of Tim Ferriss’s recommended morning routine. It seems that people either define themselves as mindful meditators like Gabby Bernstein and Oprah, or they love to brag about their inability to sit silently.

No matter which camp you currently reside in, after reading this you’ll want to give mindfulness a second chance.

First I want to be clear about what mindfulness is and what it isn’t.

Mindfulness isn’t the same as meditation. Being mindful involves present moment awareness which can occur while you are meditating but mindfulness can also happen when your are walking, eating, listening or doing other activities that require presence. Meditation is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration. This involves becoming a witness of one’s mind and mastery of attention to intention. Techniques may involve use of a mantra (series of words that act as an anchor for the wandering mind), close guidance by a guru (a teacher), compassion, love, patience, and of course, mindfulness.

Mindfulness and meditation are not religion. There is meditation as part of many religious practices. But you don’t have to be spiritual or religious to meditate. I think of prayer as talking to God and meditation as listening- but that is only one way to look at it. For many, meditation and prayer are two sides of one coin.

What about the fidgety people who drink wine, see stillness as constraining and are skeptical about anything that could be seen as religion? There is still away to take advantage of the benefits (see below) of meditation if you fall into this category. Spending time in a flow state is one of them.

The Antidote to Stress

Mindful meditation is often seen as a stress management tool. Stress happens when an obstacle comes between us and something we want. This could be a red light as we hurry to a child’s dance recital or an interview that may lead to a promotion. The body responds to any type of stress by releasing a flood of chemicals. This is known as the fight/flight response. When in this state

  • heart rate increases
  • blood pressure increases
  • pancreas releases more glucagon and less insulin raising blood sugar
  • we sweat more
  • adrenals pump out more adrenaline. noradrenaline and cortisol
  • we feel a need to go to the bathroom
  • our blood platelets clot
  • our immunity weakens
  • we breath more quickly

Over time, prolonged exposure to the fight/flight response can:

  • increase in blood pressure and stress on the heart can lead to coronary heart disease
  • increase of stress hormones can really lead to anxiety insomnia or addiction
  • increase blood sugar can lead to diabetes or obesity
  • decreased circulation to the digestive tract can lead to digestive disturbances
  • decreased growth and sex hormones can cause premature aging
  • decreased immunity increases your potential for infections
  • increase in sticky platelets increases the risk of heart attack and stroke

When you are mindfully meditating your heart rate, your blood pressure, your respiration, your perspiration, your stress hormones, and your platelets stickiness all decrease and your anti-aging hormones increase.

The Benefits

Mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and your ability to flourish

Mindfulness buffers depression symptoms

After 8 week of daily 1 hour mindfulness a significant increase in baseline happiness levels that lasted 4 months after the training was recorded

Patience increases

Sense of connection to others increases

Physical health improves

 

Types of Mindfulness & Meditation

I wrote an article for the Chopra Center decoding 5 top types of meditation.  A list of many types follows:

  • Primordial Sound Meditation. 
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
  • Zen. Zen is also referred to as Zazen
  • Transcendental Meditation. 
  • Guided Meditation
  • Vipassana Meditation
  • Qigon
  • Taoist Meditation
  • Loving Kindness
  • Being in a Flow State

No Down Side

The potential benefits of mindful practice certainly make it worth your effort and time. If you really struggle to sit I suggest the following mindful alternatives:

picking up stones or sea glass or shells at a beach

bird watching

sending imaginary hugs to everyone you love

square breathing (inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4)

 

I hope you will give mindfulness or full blown meditation a try. It’s one of seven science backed practices I love using to help people to flourish.