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Posts Tagged ‘positive psychology’

Stress is Good: embracing stress, not fighting it

May 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Stress-can-actually-be-good-for-me-YAY-300x300We talk a lot about stress as something negative, something to be avoided.  Students tell me all the time how “stressed” they are as if it is something entirely negative.  The reality is that often stress is an appropriate response to a situation.  A student should feel stress, particularly when going into an exam.  If you do not have stress, I would be even more concerned.

Stress tends to have the impact that you expect it to have.  If you believe your stress is harmful it is more likely to be harmful and if you believe your stress is a resource we can use it to activate the energy and focus we need to overcome challenges.

Stress is not something that happens to us, instead, think of it as something that happens within us.  It is a subtle distinction, but if we think of it as something internal rather than external being forced upon us, we feel a greater sense of control and ownership over how we use it.   Dr. Kelly McGonigal, an expert in the field of “science help,” recommends that we do not attempt to directly fight the physiological responses that we have to stress, but instead subtly reframe it in a way that is positive.  Thus, instead of trying to calm ourselves down, we should see the surge of adrenaline, energy, etc that often comes with a stressful situation as an indication of excitement.  Indeed, at times of stress, our bodies and minds are in a state of excitement.  While it may feel unreasonable to convince yourself in those moments to be calm, it is not unreasonable to convince yourself to view your emotional and physiological response as excitement.

Further, it is important to remind ourselves that stress is fundamentally linked with what we care about and what we value.  If we view the stress we encounter in each day as a part of eudaimonic well-being, then we will be have the courage and resilience to grow from stress and realise its critical role in self-realization.  (Eudaimonic wellbeing is an alternative to hedonic happiness; it focusses more on human flourishing including self-realization, values, and purpose and less on the pursuit of pleasure that is associated more with hedonism.)

We can use this perspective on a daily basis when dealing with the inevitable stress that is associated with doing a university degree.  By reframing our thoughts on stress and seeing stress as something we can harness and use to our advantage rather than something that is happening to us and is innately negative, we will be able to help alleviate some of the more destructive consequences that the negative view of stress has on our academic, physical and psychological well-being.

The reality is, stress is an essential part of a fulfilling and productive life.  If we had no stress, we would not have the pressure and motivation to get up and do anything.  Stress is what gets us going, it is what helps us be energetic and engaged at the right moments.  The goal should not be to eliminate stress, but to get better at interpreting stress as a productive tool.

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When your day is filled with clouds

March 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Clouds Background Cloud High Sky Air

Even when the sky is filled with clouds, the sun is still out and shining, you just can’t see it.  I remind myself of this when I am struggling to find the good in a day.  The truth is that nothing living can survive without rain, so even if we don’t like the clouds, we cannot thrive and grow without them.

With the flood of smiling faces and sunny vacations, the constant façade of perfect lives that we are presented with in people’s carefully curated Facebook feeds, we can feel as though the dull days of our lives are not the norm.  However, when I sit in my office across from students whose lives are filled with clouds and rain, when I connect with friends, who are burnt out, exhausted, struggling with parenting, feeling like they don’t get time to rest or relax, I realise that what we think is the norm is not at all.  What is normal is to struggle.

Well that sounds terrible!  And to be honest, some days it is.  But, if we can re-frame those struggles and also be sure to take the time to find the good in each day, it becomes much less depressing.  It allows us to not just live for those exciting days off in the distance where we know we have a vacation planned, or something special coming up.  It allows us to transform the day to day into something that feels more sustainable and even mildly enjoyable.

One of my favourite quotes about life was brought to my attention by Dr. Brene Brown, a phenomenal expert on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  Theodore Roosevelt

This paints a vivid picture in my mind of what a great life might look like.  It is not remotely close to Facebook perfection.  It is not someone who looks composed, well put together, with perfectly prepared and well balanced meals, exceptional study habits, impeccable parenting skills: someone who says and does all the right things at the right times, who is loved by all, and admired for his/her restraint and humility.

In fact, this great life, looks a bit more like I do at the end of a day:  holes in my leggings, some sort of food spilt on my shirt, my hair tangled, the kids complaining about dinner, and lunch, and likely breakfast, someone at work claiming that I didn’t do something I was supposed to do.  Then there are those kind words that someone says to me; I went for a walk with a friend;  I totally destroyed (with three stars) that next level of candy crush; I shared a laugh over a stupid you tube video about a dog that bites his own foot and I told someone that I appreciated them;  I made a student feel less hopeless, less ashamed, less like a failure. . . and there it is! My own small triumph. So, no matter how messy or unworthy of a post to my Facebook feed I can see that behind the dullness of the day, the sun was shining the whole time.  I just needed to look for it.

If it were not for the complaining, I wouldn’t appreciate the compliments so much.  If it were not for the less than perfect image, it wouldn’t feel as good to take the time to dress up and do my hair. If it were not for Kraft dinner and hot dogs, those well prepared fresh meals would not taste as good.  If it were not for clouds and the rain, the sun would not feel like such a blessing.

 

 

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?

Neuroplasticity

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

nNeuroplasticitynoun

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.

Running on Empty?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
empty

Running on Empty

I read a blog post from the minister at the church I attend and what he wrote really resonated with me. We are at a time of year in the academic calendar when energy is low and demands are high. I can see it written all over everyone’s face: in the slow dragging of feet, the deep sighs and yawns and the expressionless way that people seem to be lumbering through their days. When there is so much to be done, I too find myself forgetting to even check my tank to see how much gas I have. I commonly find that I am running on fumes, focussed too much on what needs to be done and not enough on whether I have the energy to do it.

Whatever it is that you need to keep yourself going, to fuel your body, mind, and spirit, I encourage you to take the time to do it. The impact of time lost in stopping to refuel will be paid back exponentially in the revitalization of your energy and focus.

Thanks Kevin, for reminding me to stop and refuel and not let myself run on empty.

Kevin’s Post from Canon Kevin’s Corner

When I first got my driver’s license 26 years ago and was driving my father’s car it would perturb him to no end if I brought the vehicle back less than half a tank of gas. You see, he never really let his car get much below half a tank before he would fill it up. He could never understand why I would let my own cars get so low on gas. On the many trips he and Mom made to Ontario, right at about this time of year, he will be traveling with me in the car and always ask the obvious question, “Why do you let your car get so low on gas? There’s no need of it! You pass all these has stations every day and you still wait.” He would shake his head upward, lips pursed, and eyes closed as if to say – it’s no use telling you anything.
He knew me!

Dad was really on my mind today. I had pulled over to return an email on my cell phone when I noticed that the fuel light on my car was not just low, but was flashing. Then I remembered that it originally showed low fuel three days ago. O dear!!! I was about three-quarters of a kilometer from the Shell station. Thankfully it was downhill. As I pull back on the road the car actually sputtered but then gained some momentum as the car tipped downward. I pulled into the Shell station and literally sputtered up to the pumps on fumes and stalled out!!!!!!! Close call. The image of my father shaking his head, resigned to the fact that I do not listen, came right before me.

Not long after I first moved to London and purchased this car, I actually ran flat-out of gas and had to be rescued. That happened to me once in Windsor as well. One would think that I might learn from my mistakes. One would be so wrong. There is no need for me to run out of gas. As dad told me all those years ago, I pass gas stations all day long in this city. Bad habits are hard to break sometimes. But I commit there and now to not let my car get that low again.

Having fueled the car up and having avoided the embarrassment of being out of gas again, I began to think about the other ways that we run out of fuel. How often do we move through our days mindlessly, knowing full well that we are getting pretty low and our energy is at a place where it will be hard to imagine how we could keep going? We fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we have the energy to continue. Or how often do we spiritually feel that our tank is getting pretty low? There are times I am sure that most of us feel as though we may be drifting further away from God and not closer.

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of the fact that I was not taking the time to do things that replenish me. I cannot tell you how I got there – but I can tell you that I was feeling as though I was not as in touch with my Creator as I normally like to be. As I engaged in my Lenten reflections it became painfully obvious that in the busy day-to-day grind of life, that for a number of weeks I was not taking the time to do the things that were spiritually life-giving for me. As much as I needed to get to Shell today for petrol I needed to name what fuels me – and go get it. I love to read, and two weeks ago I came to the stark realization that I had gone a couple of months without reading a book at all. I also love to write. My writing had all but stopped. Again I could see my father saying to me why do you let your tank get so low? Just as I sputtered to the tanks today, I sputtered to the book store a couple of weeks ago and have been reading and writing in an attempt to keep things moving?

Dad was right! We have no need to let our tank get so very low. The car and our spirits need ‘regular’ attention in order to keep running smoothly.
I would be interested in hearing what fuels you. What do you need, to keep you moving forward. If you feel comfortable, comment on this blog and share the things that are life-giving for you. When you feel a little low, or lacking energy spiritually or otherwise, where do you go to fill up as it were?

Graduating with Gratitude

June 19, 2013 Leave a comment

convo1Yesterday was our convocation at Huron.  I spent the day watching our lovely students with faces bright and full of pride parade around in their black gowns.  As I stood at the back of the room witnessing the closure of their years of study, I wondered what was running through their minds.  Do they feel full of hope? Do they feel full of potential?  I sure hope they do, and not just in that moment but in the days, weeks, months and years that follow-it.

As I searched for further inspiration for this post, I Googled the top convocation speeches of all time.  As I listened to the seemingly endless words of wisdom and optimism that flood convocation halls at this time of year, I became a little cynical. So many of them focus on the idea that you can do anything, don’t let anything stand in your way, follow your dreams . . . Although I too want students to be determined and persevere, it was in a much humbler act that I found my insight for this post.

When I was gathered on the lawn with our graduates drinking lemonade and eating sandwiches I ran into a particularly lovely and successful student.  She had a handful of thank you cards that she had carefully prepared and thoughtfully written for the occasion.  She handed me a card and the message inside was so full of honest and generous gratitude that I felt a rush of warmth.  On a day that is all about her accomplishments she had spent likely hours thinking about others and the parts that they have played in her success.

To experience persistent and overwhelming gratitude, that is my hope for our graduates.

Numerous studies have begun to focus on the impact of gratitude on our well-being.  “These studies support the theory that gratitude is an affective trait important to subjective well being.”  (Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal) Furthermore, in the Journal of Business Ethics gratitude is conceptualized as “a moral affect that serves to motivate individuals to engage in pro-social behaviour and acts as a moral barometer” (Emmons, 2003).  Furthermore, “grateful persons not only demonstrate more positive mental states (e.g. enthusiastic, determined, and attentive), but also are more generous, caring, and helpful to others.” (McCullough et al., 2002)

In North America, we focus so much on individualism.  We believe that individual liberties and success is the key to prosperity and happiness;  hence, all of the inspirational statements at graduation ceremonies that focus on each graduate pursuing his/her individual goals, striving for personal success, not giving up on him/herself.    But does such a thing exist?  Can any of us achieve anything all on our own?  Even if we can, why would we want to?  There is something much more rewarding in letting others in to share in our achievements.  Acknowledging the contributions of those that love and care for us in our accomplishments.  What good is it scoring a goal if you have no one to high-five afterwards?  Where is the value in winning an award if there is no one there tearing up with pride and taking your photo?  What better way to celebrate than by thanking those that helped you along your path.  That act of love and gratitude will make you happier; it will ensure that as you move through life you are more determined and attentive.

You lose nothing by acknowledging the contributions of others.  In fact, the greatest leaders that I have known are the ones that happily admit that they could not have done it alone.  So when you walk across that stage or look at your diploma hanging on the wall, think about those that believed in you, taught you, picked you up and pulled you through and be grateful.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  What resonates with me in this statement is that it allows us to take our failures into account as well.  We can even be grateful for the lessons that we learned when things did not go well.

So go out into the world, persevere, work hard, and follow your dreams.  But, do it with gratitude and you will find that you are happier and more resilient.

Congratulations Graduates!

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