The ability to bounce back quickly from failure, disappointment or emotional upheaval is hugely important in a world that continues to move at an exponential rate. This period of accelerating change is clearly putting a huge amount of strain on individuals and we are now beginning to witness the cracks as they appear.
In 1970, futurist (possibly a made-up job) Alvin Toffler predicted that people exposed to these rapid changes in modern life would suffer from “shattering stress and disorientation.” They would be, in his words, “future-shocked.” He maintained that the need to constantly adapt to changing situations could lead to feelings of helplessness, despair, depression, uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety and burnout.
He went on to state that when people go through times of rapid change, they need what he calls “islands of stability.” Those are things that do not change in your life—they are your security blanket, safe havens the things in your life, which give you strength when times are uncertain.
These can take many forms, such as a friend, family member, your home or your bedroom. But a much-overlooked island of stability could and should be our own mind. After all it was Socrates who once said very simply “know thyself”.
I travel to hundreds of different schools, businesses and environments every year and still I am faced with audiences who have very little understanding of their own neurology, how it works or indeed how to get it back, when in a time of uncertainty or change, it quite literally ‘does one’.
As a lead happiness Consultant for Laughology I have been working in schools alongside teachers to help young people of all ages embrace and understand this incredibly sophisticated piece of computing equipment located between our ears.
Empowering people to recognise when our brains don’t appear to be working as well as we’d hoped has nothing to do with being clever or stupid (In fact clever or stupid doesn’t actually exist. Once we have a basic understanding of our brain and it’s emotional trap doors we can begin to lay the foundations of a growth mindset
Growth mindset was a term first coined by Carol Dweck to describe a person that embraces change, understands that intelligence can be developed and sees learning as an opportunity to grow through experience. More importantly it enables the individual to approach life, opportunities and decision-making in a more positive way. When we do this, we are encouraging the release of naturally occurring neurotransmitters called endorphins and dopamine, which not only make us feel good, they also help to re-enforce learning.
Conversely, a fixed mindset denotes a person who thinks intelligence is fixed, who fears change and sees new learning as unsettling as it may reveal their lack of skill/competence. And should be avoided.
As a cognitive tool for the positive development of happier minds, growth mindset should be on every school and workplace agenda for staff and students alike.
Below are my top five tips to help get your brain back and develop resilience through a growth mindset approach
1 – Breathe more
I know it sounds daft but people really don’t breathe very well, after all ‘anxiety is simply excitement without breath’. When we panic the first thing that goes is our breathing shortly followed by our in ability to think ( as the brain goes reptilian) so the next time you feel stressed remember to breathe deeply in for 4 then out for 4. Not only will this help you stay calm but it may give you a bit of thinking time, which always helps
2 – High challenge/low stress task
If you feel that your brain has indeed left the building or perhaps one of your students, this will be because the brain has dumped a chemical in the body which enables the survival flight or flight response to kick in – literally shutting the brain down. The best thing to do when you suspect you are in the grip of this emotional response is a high challenge/low stress task, such as going for a walk, washing your face, reading a few pages of a book, picking up some litter etc. This helps to work the chemical out of the system so you can reclaim your brain and continue with the job in hand.
3 – Psychophysical beings and the power of posing
We are psycho-physical beings, which means our minds affect our bodies and our bodies effect our minds. We are inextricably interconnected. Knowing this means we can shift our mood by changing our physical state. If you sit slouched and your body looks like it can’t be bothered, eventually your brain will agree.
4 – Plan, monitor, evaluate
In order to begin the development of a growth mindset try looking at the three areas above the next time you are presented with a new challenge.
- What is the nature of my task?
- What is my goal?
- What information and strategies do I need?
- Do I have a clear understanding of what I am doing?
- What assumptions am I making about myself and the task?
- Am I reaching my goals?
- Have I reached my goal?
- What worked/didn’t work?
- What would I do differently next time?
- What do I know differently now that I didn’t know before and how have I learnt that?
5 – Communicate
It is essential that we encourage our children/students/loved ones/colleagues to keep communication open, to develop their own emotional voice, to understand their feelings and to express and describe them. To know that there is always someone to talk to who will listen is so important in the emotional development of any individual, as once a situation/problem/feeling is shared, very often it loses it’s power and hold. Our imaginations are incredibly powerful and will conjure up all kinds of bizarre outrageous and hurtful things that will very often (if left unchallenged) grow out of proportion. So even if someone doesn’t want to speak directly to you, maybe you can encourage them to speak to someone else.
“When you worry, you go over the same ground endlessly and come out the same place you started. Thinking makes progress from one place to another; worry remains static. The problem of life is to change worry into thinking and anxiety into creative action.” Harold B. Walker
When we have simple tools at our disposal to help us shift our state of being or the capacity to flip and re-frame our experiences so we feel more lovable and capable, we start to sculpt a mind that is able to make better choices for ourselves, the people around us and our environments, and that can only be a good thing.
If we can give young people anything this century, then it is the power and confidence to better understand themselves as sophisticated, complex human beings; an emotional work in progress on a journey along a road called happiness, one positive choice at a time.
Go to our mental health in the workplace workshop page