What you seek you will find

March 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Broaden and Build Theory

What you seek you will find – If you are looking for problems you will find them.  If you are looking for positives you will find them.

I see every day the instant impact that positivity or negativity has on individual and collective outcomes and trajectory.  I frequently coach my students to frame goals as something they want to achieve rather than something that they are hoping to avoid. For example: “I hope I master this course content and get a good grade” vs.  “I hope I don’t fail.”

By focusing on the positive you can feel your entire body change.  A student when talking about possibilities tends to sit up more, make more eye contact, smile more, and  has a visible energy.  That same student when talking about his/her fears becomes not just mentally but also physically closed off.  He/she will slump down more in the chair, has a harder time making eye contact, sometimes I even see nervous twitching like legs shaking etc.

Dr. Frederickson talks about the amazing impact of positive thoughts in her Broaden and Build theory.  This theory illuminates exactly what I have witnessed in others and what I feel in myself when faced with a challenge.

In order to ensure that you are supporting a work/study environment that promotes creativity and innovation, it is important to work hard to protect and encourage positive emotion and perspectives.  One way that I do this is ensuring that when we are working as a team on resolving a problem or improving a service, that we focus first on un-analysed idea generation.  By protecting the brainstorming process from the negative emotion that can result from instant analysis, we are helping people to feel safe in sharing ideas, broadening the thoughts and actions that we will consider, and generating an upward spiral of energy and creativity that is more likely to result in multiple good options.

I recognise that, particularly in a university setting, there can be a strong desire to analyse and critique everything as soon as it is put on the table.  However, if the desire to point out flaws, impracticality, budgetary constraints, etc. can be delayed until a second stage of consideration, then you are allowing for a cross pollination of ideas, and for people to feel open to sharing. You can reassure all involved that we will get to the analysis stage; we can look at all the data points you like, but just not yet.  Furthermore, this focus on the positive not only assists in the short term idea generation and problem solving, but also ensures that as a team we have longer term success, well-being and resilience.

Can you think of a time when you were sitting in a meeting and you or someone else had an idea that was instantly shut down?  “Well we tried that last year and it didn’t work” . . . “We don’t have the budget for that” . . . “There is no way the administration will approve that” . . . . How did you feel?



February 12, 2018 Leave a comment


mass noun

  • The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.

The idea that our minds are not just set, unchangeable, static, makes so much feel possible.  I have grown up in a world that encourages us to believe that talents and abilities are innate, that we are “gifted” or “a natural”.  Further, if we have to work too hard at something it is an indication that we are not naturally gifted in that area and therefore are unlikely to every become really good at it.

Josh Waitzkin states, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”  I agree entirely with this statement and see it play out on a daily basis with the students that I council.  If we believe that struggle and effort are indicative of inability, then we will give up when things get hard.  Instead, if we believe as Rick Hanson asserts, that “Failure is the most essential step to success” then we will be able to embrace adversity as a necessary part of growth.

Furthermore, if we use our mind to change our brain, to change our mind for the better, then we will be able to harness our full potential and become resilient when we face challenges.  Hanson, refers to this sort of thinking as self-directed neuroplasticity.  This concept feels very liberating and empowering to me as it allows us to defy what seems to come naturally and instead to master, whatever we set our minds to – quite literally.

I have started talking with students about neuroplasticity.  It is interesting to observe how few of them have heard of this and how many of them hold onto the belief that struggle and effort are a sign of inability and weakness.  Having this dialogue with students I have seen an instant impact on their ability to look at the next week of exams: the struggles, the doubts, the hard-work that lies immediately in front of them, and to see it not as an exercise in futility and self-doubt, but instead as an opportunity to transform their brain, in meaningful ways.  To literally form new neural connections, and pathways, to impact the chemistry, structure and function of their brain in a way that sets them up better for learning, success, and resilience.

Nearly 70% of university students battle loneliness during school year, survey says

September 12, 2016 Leave a comment

National survey found students felt ‘very lonely’ and ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function’

By Teghan Beaudette, CBC News Posted: Sep 09, 2016 4:00 AM CTLast Updated: Sep 09, 2016 4:00 AM CT

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

As university classes start up this week, officials are already working hard to stave off a major contributor to poor mental health among students — loneliness.

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

And the problem was worse for female students, with nearly 70 per cent feeling very lonely at least once in the last year, compared with male students at 59 per cent.

More than 43,000 students were surveyed for the National College Health Assessment.

It found about 30 per cent of students “felt very lonely” within the last two weeks.

The study also found nearly half of the students surveyed felt debilitatingly depressed in the past year.

44 per cent said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

It’s something counsellors on Winnipeg campuses are well aware of.

David Ness, director of student counselling at the University of Manitoba, said he expects to see students struggling with loneliness come into the counselling centre every year.

“They’re on a campus with 30,000 students, several thousand employees — there’s all these people around, but you still feel lonely,” Ness said. “You have to have the individual skills to connect with someone.”

He said it seems to be worse after the Thanksgiving break, and he thinks the increasing social anxiety rate in youth is a contributor. He also thinks electronic devices are contributing to students having difficulty making connections.

Ness recommends joining student groups or reaching out to counsellors or student mentors.

‘You can feel really isolated’

At the University of Winnipeg, the student association is in the middle of a week of events to try to get students to connect before things get really busy.

“It’s still a scary place for a lot of students. Your first year coming here, you can feel really isolated,” said Kevin Settee, the student association’s president. “You’re in classrooms, then you have to go home and study, and you’ve got to do your research and write your papers, and usually a lot of that happens in isolation.… It can get lonely.”

Students from Northern Manitoba or out of province are often leaving their family and friends for the first time, Settee said.

David Ness, University of Manitoba

David Ness is the head of counselling services at the University of Manitoba. He says every year, students come in struggling with loneliness on campus. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Some Canadian universities are tackling loneliness directly and not just as a contributor to poor mental health among students. The University of Calgary has developed resources for lonely students to let them know they’re not alone and where and how they can get help.

Jan Byrd, who directs the University of Winnipeg’s wellness and student life program, said the university has first year students move into dorms a week early to help them adjust.

“We do quite a few things differently to welcome our first year students and try and alleviate that loneliness,” said Byrd, pointing to activities like group movie nights, bowling, city tours and appointed peer mentors.

“We know that students are more likely to stay here and persist and do well in their studies if they have a network of supports, so we try and create many opportunities so people can make a network and make connections on campus so that things don’t hit a crisis,” she said.

The university doesn’t want to “medicalize loneliness” because, Byrd said, it’s a perfectly normal feeling, but “there are those students for whom things don’t get better.”

When that’s the case, the university has psychiatrists and nurses on staff to help.

Ness, Settee and Byrd all recommended joining student groups as a way to stave off loneliness. The U of W had more than 70 groups last year, and the University of Manitoba tracks extracurriculars and puts them on students’ transcripts as an incentive to participate.

Ness said counsellors can help students develop coping skills and figure out exactly what is causing them to feel bad.

Ness and Byrd said students should reach out before it reaches a crisis point.

In the past two years, the University of Winnipeg has increased counselling services on campus and changed the student health care program to include more money for mental health services.

Finding Direction at the Top of a Mountain

March 4, 2016 Leave a comment

mountains_960One of our Engineering students who is taking a year off contacted our office about his next steps for his education.  During our interactions he mentioned that he has been doing some personal exploration.  I thought that his story might resonate with other students.  You can check out another of David Zhang’s posts here.

The Calgary Hiking Club – by David Zhang

The weather forecast was terrible. Well the forecasting wasn’t bad but the actual weather — not so much. Thunderstorms in Banff. I had organized our first hike of the summer and it was the morning of. Five confirmed attendants, supposedly. It was 5 minutes passed meetup time. My calls were returned with voicemails.

Luckily, one of them did show up. “You’re a troll”, he muttered, shaking the rain out of his hair. As troll as it was, we trekked on our way through the summer thunder to our hike. Our two-man hike.

At arrival, we were pleasantly surprised. The rain had settled the dust and crisp clean taste of the dew-covered forest lingered with every breath. Birds brimmed the trees, singing and celebrating the passing of the storm. We joined them, immersing ourselves in nature; awe stricken by its beauty, our daily worries seemed to disappear.

The best part: the scenery was silently serene; there were those who made a logical decision to stay home, and there were us.

After a good 10 miles’ up’n’down, I was absolutely exhausted. It was tough. It was grueling. It was amazing.

I loved every minute of it. Even though 3 of our initially planned party didn’t show up, it made me realize that I didn’t need to depend on others for my plans; I was the creator of my happiness. Through a good 9 hours of talking, laughing, singing, and sweating, we began the legacy of the Calgary Hiking Club.

Co-founded by two people, the CHC was originally a joke alias to keep our motivation for proactivity. Our philosophy was “Just do it!”. Might sound familiar but I assure you it’s 100% original. Whenever someone came up with an idea, it was accepted immediately — unconditionally. It was circumstance that had given us the chance to reap our first adventure, and it would be initiative that would keep us going for the next.

Over the summer, we had a few friends come visit and took them along the CHC “Tour de Banff”. With each hike, the club grew. Not necessarily in size, but for my friend and I, the summits had made us stronger. We were eager to embark on new journeys and face new challenges; getting out of our comfort zone began to not feel so uncomfortable.

In four months, our population grew from a measly 2 to a pretty outstanding 5 (yeah I know, not to brag or anything…). Although we weren’t selective in club members, we didn’t chase people to join it. This wasn’t some kind of pyramid scheme or resume builder, this was something for ourselves. Besides, any members that needed to be “chased down” were probably not worthy of the membership. Following the motto, the CHC were full of people with initiative. Those who joined would not be exceptions. When we planned something, there were no maybe’s. Everyone was full of vigor and passion. It wasn’t just about the exercise; there was something about climbing mountains that invigorated us. We wanted to do things. To climb greater heights. To live better lives.

I was an all-star in high school. I was smart, athletic, and popular. I got 2310 on my SATs, won the Canadian Junior Chess Championship, and could bench 205lb in grade 11. I felt like I was on top of the world, with unlimited potential to effervesce. The sky wasn’t even the limit. I was invincible.

However, the past two years of my life have proven otherwise. Once I stepped into university, my slate was wiped clean. Since I moved out of the province for school, I knew no one, and although I didn’t care too much about popularity, in a school with so many people that want to fit in, it’s hard to make real relationships. It felt like I had to choose between putting on a mask to socialize with everyone and taking it off to meet people who wanted to build something genuine.

I bet you’re thinking, Dude, you just gotta’ balance it bro, and don’t get me wrong, I thought so too. In fact, I did try to balance the social aspects of my social life, but it didn’t work. Sure I met a lot of people and found a few good friends here and there, but I couldn’t help but think of how it was like in high school. I didn’t have to try, friends came naturally; everything was authentic — it was just so easy.

In addition, even though I had good grades, the curriculum didn’t stimulate me and the lifestyle was hard for me to adapt to. I began drifting away from my goals and used school as an excuse for doing nothing productive in my time. The enthalpy between high school me and 2nd year me could have saved America two months of gas bills. I began spending all my time thinking about how badly I was wasting it. Along with a heavy backpack of personal issues, I fell down to rock bottom and into a pit of depression. I wanted help, but all I got from psychiatrists were prescriptions for SSRIs and an $80 fine.

So I put it on myself.

I tried to bring myself back up. I told myself that I would get back to where I used to stand. I would climb back up the mountain and reach the summit that I had once conquered before. But this was a fallacious mentality. Instead of pursuing new goals, I spent the past two years chasing after my past successes. With eyes glued to the back of my head, never once did I try to move forward.

It was through the simple joy of going out for hikes that began to change my perspective. By pushing myself out of complacency and into the wilderness, I began to move forward in directions I had never seen before. Just the actions of initiating and committing have given me the conviction to do things I would never have imagined myself doing 4 months ago. I have set goals and put plans in action. I used to wake up at 1PM and spend my day waiting to sleep. Now, I don’t even think I have time to sleep! There are too many things I want to do.

As mentioned before, the CHC is really just an alias. The conception of the club was through a hiking trip, but the real beginning of it all was when we took the dive to shoulder the thunderstorm and just do it. While I’d like to say something like “The CHC isn’t just about climbing mountains, we’re about reaching greater heights! lol!”, the CHC is all about climbing mountains! However, those mountains don’t have to be in the shape of a big earthly mound. Many of them, in fact, aren’t physical ones. In our everyday lives, even the smallest hurdles can impede us from going forward. I’d tell myself that it’s too hot outside to go for a run. I’d give excuses to avoid, push, and procrastinate. I’d say tomorrow instead of today. It’s easy to get comfortable, and that’s exactly where we were when we started.

When we began hiking, we proved to ourselves that any mountain can be overcome with guts and initiative. As long as there is a start, there can be a finish.

Through blood and sweat, the CHC has shown me the power of simply doing things. When life is caving in on you, you either squish, or you push back. I have been bruised, broken, and have fallen down one of the highest points in my life.

Maybe I’ll never climb back up the mountain I once stood upon, but that’s okay, because the next one is right up ahead.

Categories: Career Development

Sustainable Motivation and the Power of Passion

February 26, 2016 2 comments

a-passion-your-life-passion-in-lifeMerriam-Webster dictionary defines Motivation as “a force or influence that causes someone to do something”. However, the power of motivation and its ability to be sustained is much more complex and slightly different for each individual. Sustainable motivation is one of the greatest factors in one’s ability to achieve a goal or complete a task. So, if you are finding yourself struggling to get something done, drained by the process, distracted, disinterested . . . it is likely because you have not tapped into a sustainable motivation for doing what you are doing.

I see brilliant and competent students struggle daily to achieve at even a moderate level. Part of the problem is that we often frame our motivation for doing something in extrinsic terms (coming from outside of us). I want to complete this degree because I have been told that it will most likely result in stable employment. I need to complete this course because it is a required course for this degree. I need to do well on this exam so that I can get a good grade in this course, so that I can complete my degree and gain employment. As Thomas Koballa states in his article “Framework for the Affective Domain in Science Education” “Students with performance goals often are preoccupied with gaining social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.”

Wow, no wonder if those are your motivations that you are having trouble finding the energy to complete the tasks necessary. The trouble here is that what is referred to as the affective domain is not factoring in to this equation. The affective domain is that part of our existence that arises out of emotions, feelings, values, and opinions. It is the part of us that evokes passion; it is an intrinsic motivator. Rather than attempting to motivate yourself towards achieving an extrinsic goal, like doing well in a course so that you can progress in your degree, I suggest framing your goals in a way that taps into your affective domain. Why do you care about what you are doing? Think about the context, the potential for impact, how it aligns with your skills and interests.

The energy to keep going despite hardships, to push through even with conflicting priorities and complex challenges needs to come from within. So if you are having trouble relating on an emotional level and seeing the purpose of what you are doing, take some time to explore that. Talk to others that are passionate, go and speak to your instructor about the course material. I can guarantee that your professors have passion for their subject matter as they have likely dedicated a large portion of their lives to the study of it.

See your degree as more than a sequence of equations, principles, theories and facts that need to be memorized and mastered, see it as a pursuit of knowledge that can have an impact on your life and the lives of others. No matter what you study, bring your values, opinions, feelings and passions into the subject matter. In doing this, you will be far more likely to want to get out of bed in the morning, go to class and learn.

Failing Successfully

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Working in the Faculty of Engineering, most of our new students have had very little exposure to failure and potentially no exposure, whatsoever, to academic failure. While at first this may seem to be a good thing, the reality is that failure is one of the most valuable experiences we can have in life.

If you think about it, how did you learn to walk, skate, swim, ride a bike, hit a ball? Likely by failing first, and failing many times and only then figuring out how to succeed. When I think about the things that I have learned in my life, just about all of them, and certainly the lessons that stick with me the most, are the ones that came through failure: better ways to approach conflict, how to listen with empathy, how to forgive, accept a complement, be gracious, cook a good meal, follow through on a task, create something new or innovative, challenge a concept or opinion effectively, develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. While, for the most part, I am good at these things now, I certainly was not at one point.

There have been many moments where I have been ashamed, embarrassed, felt terrible for what I had done, known that I could do better, desperately wanted to change, improve, get better, succeed. . .

So rather than taking those moments and converting them into self-ridicule, blame and low self-esteem, the key has been to figure out how to fail successfully. How do I harness the emotion that has come out of those failures into something that results in motivation, resilience and the ability to pick myself up and keep going? The ability to do this is what makes failing so powerful. If we can transform a failure into an impactful lesson on what not to do, we get significantly closer to success.

Does this mean that I am telling our students to get out there and fail? YES, that is exactly what I am saying, as nothing great has been accomplished without failure. If you have not failed, then you have likely not pushed yourself hard enough, have not taken on a challenge, have not been creative, innovative and confident enough. If you think about the people that have contributed most to our world, those that likely you admire and look up to, they are not the people that have never made a mistake, they are the ones that have failed the most, but kept going.

There are many famous quotes about failure, but the one that I think resonates the most for me when I think about our students is one from Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  I frequently say to students that they are not only in university to learn about the properties of materials, statics, discrete math, and programming; they are here to learn how to become the functional, happy, and successful adult versions of themselves. To do that, they will need to encounter their limits, brush themselves off, learn to re-calibrate and keep going.

So when you get that first failing grade, fumble in a presentation, fight with your roommate over unwashed dishes, do something you regret when out with your friends, disappoint your parents, yourself, and others . . . don’t fret for too long. Recognize that failure presents you with a phenomenal opportunity for growth and development that simple success never provides. For out of great risk, and abundant mistakes, come the best opportunities for innovation and excellence. The reality is that so longs as you keep trying, you have not failed, you just haven’t succeed YET. As Thomas Edison, put it so well, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Puppy and Play Therapy

December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard.  Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress

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Puppy Therapy!!

and find some balance and calm during exam time.

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Puzzles and Lego

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