Well-Being is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and it’s something I take quite seriously as a teacher and a parent.
Even our best and brightest kids (especially our high achieving, good souls) get tripped up by things like social pressure or anxiety. This is an epidemic across New Zealand and the world. So I have been looking an research informed strategies to train the brain for optimal performance in the classroom, on the field, court, stage or in an exam… and, more importantly, for life.
At first I was doing in Professional Learning for my professional: my students, my school and my community but as I delve down the rabbit hole of research, I can't help but be affected personally.
I graduated with an Honours Degree in Psychology in 2003 but the world has learned more about the human brain since the 1990s than all time combined before!! So I’ve have to update my knowledge. I’ve been doing the research and readings (so you don’t have to) and I’ve just finished a Diploma of Psychology and Well-Being which focused on the research looking at humans who flourish; the psychology of people who are truly successful and fulfilled in the truest sense of the term.
My biggest takeaway?
Bottom line: We are most productive and effective when we are not miserable.
Funny that! Optimal brain function involves a lot of good neurotransmitters and positive emotions (and not I’m talking about positive thinking or the ever elusive “happiness”). So with that in mind, I am going to write this blog using research and evidence based practices to improve well-being and brain function and in turn teaching our students and children. Skills for life!
Three Good Things
Good Things is a relatively simple and short evidence based exercise to rewire the brain. Negative Bias (our and our teenagers’ stunning ability to focus on the worst of a situation) has very useful evolutionary roots. Our brains try to predict the worse possible outcomes in order to avoid them. Very helpful when trying to avoid being eaten by predator; a little bit counter-productive if over used in the comfort of our own homes and classrooms.
I once read that “Anxiety is the shadow of intelligence” and to that I say- we need to learn where to stand in the sun to reduce the size of the shadow we cast and that's what this intervention is about.
Three Good Things is just that. Name 3 good things about the moment or day:
This is an excellent activity to do with yourself in trying to rewire or create new habits in the brain. Start with the little things (“Jack was hilarious at lunch today” or “Rugby practice”). After a few days, 3 things will easily flow into 6. At the end of each day, this is a nice way to review the earth’s rotation before sleeping. Better than the loop of, “Man, I really should have told that guy where to go...”
When I teach this is my Mental Fitness class at school (yeah, people- I get to teach this for a living!), some students can barely get to 2. By the end of my 10 weeks with the class, the teenagers can do it without even paying attention. So simple and yet, such a effect pathway to be building in our teenagers' brain. Perhaps even though the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, life is still worth showing up for!?!?
Parents of all ages, this is an easy way to engage your kids in a conversations about school. Role model this first. Warn your kid! Teenagers can be very suspicious.
With my kids, we talk about of difficult thing and 3 good things (to uphold Fredrickson's Positivity Ratio). I generally aim for one social good thing (“Having lunch with people I like at work”), something about personal progress (“I learned a new poem today”) and something a bit more mundane (“I’m wearing my pink flamingo socks that nobody saw but I like”). At first, my daughter and stepson coat-tailed on my ideas but that’s not a problem- it’s a starting point. And I learend so much about what is happening in the secret lives of children.
So just ask!
At first, be prepared for “I don’t know” and “Lunch”- but don’t lose your cool. Both are expected. The second one is a very acceptable answer. Cheerlead or ask follow ups (“What was the best part of lunch?”). Many boys and girls will struggle with this at first. But like any habit, it will get easier with practice. I liken it to burpees. Burpees might never feel natural but after doing 3 every day for a week, you can suddenly do more.
Shining a light on what's good in our lives is a mood-booster. The grass is greener where you water it.
Three good things: simple, quick and evidence based. So on that note, what are your 3 good things today? I'd love to hear them and also I'd love to hear if you've tried this with yourself, your family or in your classroom.
Extra for Experts: Next level (like in all subjects) is to start examining 'the why'. A clever Psychiatrist friend of mine explained that this is particularly effective because ultimately the answers lead back to our choices or relationships and therefore lift our own self-regard.
Also finding one good thing embedded in the difficult challenge grows hope and creates meaning (for example, when I couldn't find the answer, I was brave enough to ask for help and I got it).
Adrienne Buckingham has been teaching teenagers for 15 years, parenting for 8 and is on a quest to do it all better using evidence based strategies.