One of the great benefits of quitting full-time teacher and delving into the world of Wellbeing is the interesting conversations I am getting to have. Finding a tribe outside of education who have the same interests, same questions and are achieving totally cool things in completely different fields is a joy.
Working out of The Petridish I have met the very cool Dr Matt Jenkins from Mensana Movement who works in the field of exercise psychology and motivation. I also connected with the lovely Jo Tiszavari from Truce who is an ex-cop working in the space of restorative practice and conflict resolution.
We decided to combine forces to sit around a round table to discuss Wellbeing, change and the work we find most interesting; being human.
Stream or download us out at The Wise & Well.
Today we spent MenFit looking at the evidence based strategies of savouring. We started the lesson as we always do by writing down our 3 Good Things and sharing one with the class for the roll. This is an almost effortless way to start the class off on a positive note and help the boys to practice the ability to "Hunt The Good". Very important for the adolescent (and any) brain that is prone to negativity.
Next we played hang man because what 14 Year Old doesn't want to outsmart their teacher? And they did eventually. They think they won, they learned a new word so I think I won. We all won!
R U M I N A T I O N
Together we defined this as: Overthinking the negative events. To chew over. And I told my (now hilarious) story about pulling out of the school gate in front of about 400 members of the school community and pulling on the the wrong (RIGHT!) side of the road. I explained how students brought it up with me for days after and how I could have died of embarrassment at the time but we all agreed still thinking about this silly, ancient mistake was pretty silly. Teenagers can see others so much more clearly than themselves ad immediately, I could see a few faces connection to their own ruminations.
Next we guess what we could replace rumination with and, of course, there were plenty of answers: sport, study, reading, music, social media. So then I asked, "So what's the opposite of rumination?"
I suggested savouring. Evidence based, sensory experience to slow down and enjoy the good experiences we have in front of us. And this was the tricky bit: holding back 21 teenage boys from chowing down on a tiny morsel of chocolate.
We agreed that usually it would take us less than 30 seconds to tear open and devour our favourite, Favourite. We also agreed to slow down and follow the instructions and use the graduation worksheet steps to explore each of the 5 senses. I set a timer.
We drew, we coloured, we sniffed, we stared at it and we even watched the marshmallow test video:
And after about 12 minutes we took the tiniest bites and wrote at least 5 describing words about the taste. Then we inhaled the rest...or so I thought.
Afterwards, we reflected and the linked this skill to other areas of life and planned to use this strategy everywhere from getting into the ocean on a hot day, to other meals to walking slowly between classes on a sunny day (sorry next lesson teachers...and I imagine I'll get getting a call from the principal about being everyone's excuse for being late).
And the, of course, there were one or to clever clogs who showed me their uneaten Favourites on the way out of the lesson. I have no doubt those boys will have excellent retirement savings one day.
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.