It is during uncertain times like our current COVID-19 crisis where we see Positive Psychology in practice. Since the world feels a little scary and very unpredictable right now, I thought we would take a deep dive into resilience. What is it? Are you born with it or is it acquired along the way? What can you do to get more?
Merriam Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Our team at Positive Minds International gives that definition 2 thumbs down!
- Implying resilience is easy isn’t okay.
- Blaming misfortune denies your important role in resilience
We like to think of resilience as choosing to work through challenges so you become stronger than you were previously.
It’s similar to the way our bones become stronger they more we use our muscles. No gain without a little pain!
Another example is Kintsugi 金継ぎ, the Japanese approach to ceramics founded in a belief that damaged pottery shouldn’t simply be neglected or thrown away. Repairing with enormous care symbolizes a sort of reconciliation with the flaws.
Kin = golden
tsugi = joinery
Literally, ‘to join with gold’.
Resilience came from the word resiliens, used in the 1600s to describe how organic matter could bounce back to what it was before – like bamboo in the wind.
The American Psychological Association’s definition is more aligned with the way we teach resilience-
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”
Some of our favourite research on resilience comes from the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota where Ann Masten refers to resilience as “ordinary magic”.
Masten’s checklist for resilient children includes:
- Capable caregiving and parenting
- Other close relationships
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-regulation skills
- Motivation to succeed
- Faith, hope, belief life has meaning
- Effective schools
- Effective communities
- Effective cultural practices
Here’s an excellent teaching story about resilience:
A young woman went to her mother and complained that everything in her life was going wrong; her relationship had fallen apart. She was in a job that felt repetitive and mindless and she was lonely- she felt she had hit rock bottom. As the young woman started to cry, her mother went to the stove and put 3 pots of water on to boil. In one she placed a carrot, in one an egg, and in the last some coffee beans. The mother sat silently as the daughter dried her tears and watched all 3 pots boil. After a while the mother asked the daughter to feel the carrot which was soft, to crack the egg which was now hard, and to taste the coffee which was delicious. The mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity. When the carrot was placed in the water it had been strong, hard, unrelenting and yet it came out soft and weak. The egg had been fragile with a soft center and it came out hardened and unforgiving but still easy to crack. The coffee beans were unique- they had changed the water. In the face of adversity, the beans adapted by changing the world around them.
As our team prepares this post the world has been rocked by COVID-19. Like many past challenges humans have encountered ( AIDs, smallpox, Y2K) the fear can either set off a panic ultimately leading to isolation and desperation or it can be the precursor to a new way of working together to overcome it. The difference that we see, the thing that separates the carrot and egg from the coffee bean, is hope.
How does this relate to you? If you are an educator or a parent, it’s important to note one recent study showed that better educational opportunities were associated with resilience, hope and emotional wellbeing. And yet, there has never been greater uncertainty around education than we see today. I like to see the opportunity this gives us- for far too long we have let the system of education dictate both what is and what is not possible for our children. I believe the chaos of COVID will settle, leaving in its wake an opportunity to rethink education.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I invite you to share your dreams for the future of education. Let’s imagine a system where every child’s strengths are seen and harnessed. where curiosity continues to flourish throughout the teen years and where we empowered learners with the skills they will need to be their best and do their best as lifelong learners and leaders.
Check out our Facebook group for ideas on helping children foster resilsince.
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
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
To listen to her interview, click here .
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.
Canada isn’t the only Country experiencing a mental health crisis. Globally, the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015. A similar number suffer from some type of anxiety disorders. And many experience both simultaneously (comorbidity). The consequences of these disorders on families, individuals, workplaces and schools are massive. Depression is ranked by WHO as the single largest contributor to global disability (7.5% of all years lived with disability in 2015); anxiety disorders are ranked 6th (3.4%). Depression is also the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 800 000 per year (WHO, 2017)
As a mother of four I have watched as my children and their classmates are expected to cope with levels of stress far beyond reasonable. The normalizing of this stress has created a frog in the pot situation. If you drop a frog into boiling water it will immediately jump out, but if you put a frog in cool water and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog won’t notice the heat until it is too late. (sorry frog lovers) Watching the children in my community, the friends of my sons and daughters, become agoraphobic, failing to make it through on year of University after graduating at the top of their high school class, or not sleeping or eating I was inspired to find some answers.
In 2006 a few teachers at Geelong Grammar School were noticing the same challenge,an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress at the school. They discovered research out of UPENN that was making positive impact on wellbeing which in return decreased stress, anxiety and depression. Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, brought his family and research team to Geelong Grammar School (GGS) and provided the catalyst for what would become one of the most significant innovations in the world of educational psychology. By 2008, the term ‘Positive Education’ had been coined at GGS and the first large-scale training of GGS staff was underway. These first steps eventually led to the creation of Geelong Grammar’s Institute of Positive Education which employs 25 full time staff and has trained over 10,000 educators around the world from over 500 different schools and organizations.
The Positive Education Approach
Positive Education is a whole school approach to student and staff wellbeing that brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice teaching, to encourage and support individuals and communities to flourish.
Positive Education has transformed the way GGS approaches education, delivering a greater depth and breadth of exceptional education. In an ever-changing society, schools must adopt new roles that help support our students embrace the complexities of next-generation learning and living. Mental illness and psychological distress continue to increase, with initial onset during formative years. Positive Education has complemented and enhanced GGS’s holistic approach to education, by supporting, protecting and empowering students to strengthen their relationships, build positive emotions, enhance resilience and enable the exploration of meaning and purpose in one’s life. Through committing to Positive Education, GGS has shown that schools can, and should, consider health, wellbeing, and flourishing to be as important as traditional academic learning.
In consultation with world-experts in Positive Psychology and based on Seligman’s PERMA approach we developed a ‘Model for Positive Education’ – an applied framework comprising of six domains: Positive Relationships, Positive Emotions, Positive Health, Positive Engagement, Positive Accomplishment, and Positive Purpose.
This model has been augmented with four fundamental active processes that underpin successful and sustained implementation of Positive Education: Learn It, Live It, Teach It, Embed It. These processes bring the Model to life in a school and are grounded in and informed by GGS’s extensive, unique experience in assisting schools around Australia and the world to implement sustainable change.
Through regular training opportunities, staff and parents ‘learn’ about Positive Psychology and are encouraged to ‘live’ the principles of Positive Education by modelling the behaviours in their actions and interactions with each other and with students. ‘Teach it’ refers to the delivery of Positive Education skills and knowledge to students via two distinct pathways. Dedicated or ‘explicit’ Positive Education classes are taught to students from Grades 5 through 10 and are devoted to cultivating wellbeing; providing students with time to reflect meaningfully on the relevance of concepts to their lives. The ‘implicit’ teaching of Positive Education refers to the infusion of wellbeing concepts into pre-existing subject areas so that academic objectives are approached in ways that also support flourishing. ‘Embed it’ refers to the broader vision of creating a whole-school culture and community for wellbeing. The Learn It, Live It, Teach It, Embed It processes are additive, synergistic, and dynamic as they continually augment and inform each other.
Although it remains a mystery why Australia is so far ahead of North America in the realm of proactive mental health, I am delighted to help North Americans to avoid reinventing the wheel. We are pleased to announce the first of our North American training dates has been set.
World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: global health estimates (No. WHO/MSD/MER/2017.2). World Health Organization.