Category Archives: News & Articles

New Year New Habits

New Year resolutions are as much a part of the holiday season as baubles, gifts and tinsel and millions of us will soon be noting down our promises for the upcoming year. According to a study by the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans made resolutions last year yet only 8% were successful in achieving their resolution. So why is it that so few people manage to commit to their resolution?

Well, often it’s due to the unrealistic expectations people place on themselves. Don’t make your resolution a revolution: it won’t work.  It’s sometimes easy to get carried away when making our new year plans as we tend to focus on all our flaws and promise ourselves that next year will be different. Our negative brain bias forces us to remember the more negative aspects of our lives and looks, and so we swear to make changes- more exercise, less eating, more gratitude, less spending, more productive, less stress. And this is a good thing…when done rationally. When we make resolution after resolution with grand, sweeping claims to change, we are setting ourselves up for failure as there are too many demands and too much pressure. We are creatures of habit- but old habits. Once a habit is embedded and becomes part of our daily rituals, it’s usually there to stay- whether we like it or not. But getting to the point where a new behaviour becomes automatic is quite easy if we go about it the right way.

Less is more

Stanford Professor BJ Fogg’s expertise lies in creating systems to change human behaviour, or as he calls it, “Behaviour Design.” For over 20 years, he has studied human behaviour and on his site tinyhabits.com he states that throughout his research, he has found the following:

Only 3 things will change behaviour in the long term:

  1. Have an epiphany
  2. Change your environment (what surrounds you)
  3. Take baby steps

Now, as far as I’m aware, an epiphany isn’t always available. But what is more promising is that the other two factors are completely in our control and are most successful for forging new routines. Fogg’s ‘TinyHabits’ method and online program helps people ‘tap the power of environment and baby steps’ by asking participants to follow 3 easy steps when making a new habit:

  1. Make it tiny- simplify! Rather than trying to commit to doing 100 push ups a day, just commit to 1 or even 3 if you like living dangerously.
  2. Connect it to something you’re already doing. Setting an alarm or writing copious amounts of post-it notes as a reminder to perform your new habit can be quite laborious, and let’s face it, keeping up with setting an alarm is a habit in itself. Fogg’s research indicates that anchoring a new habit to a pre-existing routine is central to success. Some habits we have are pretty ingrained and we tend to do them on autopilot with very little effort or motivation, so it makes sense to utilise these rituals as a trigger. Fogg advises that the best way to start a new behaviour is to ‘put it *after* some act that is a solid habit for you, like brushing teeth or eating lunch.’ So if for example you want to practice more gratitude in the evening, focus your intention by saying “After my head hits the pillow, I will think of 1 reason to be be grateful” or if your resolution is to show more affection for your children, then commit to a ritual like, “After my son walks through the door, I will hug him for 10 seconds”.
  3. Celebrate it! In his fascinating Ted Talk, BJ Fogg asks his audience to practice a tiny habit of his choosing: flossing one tooth. The, he tells his audience to acknowledge their success by performing a little victory dance or something that reinforces their ‘awesomeness’, like a Judd Nelson style ‘fist in the air’ or shouting out “Bingo!”. By rewarding our effort and success in completing our new habit, we are much more likely to repeat it in the future.

Process over Product

Planning and goal setting is also essential. But how we view our goals can make the difference between success and failure. How many of us have hoped to start a new habit by focussing on the desired outcome: a slimmer waistline, less anxiety, more money. It seems obvious that in order to motivate us to do something we should focus on the finish line, right? Well, no. In a study by the University of California, researchers found that people who visualized the process of reaching their goals rather than just the end product were much more likely to stay motivated.

What if?

Ok, so we know how to form a habit and what will help us stay motivated but what if we start to stray? Once the excitement of starting something new has worn off, how do we stay focused and committed to our cause? Research into implementation intentions suggests that using an ‘if…then’ prompt can also make a habit more ‘sticky’, especially when anchored to a pre-existing ritual. So rather than telling ourselves, “I’m going to write in my gratitude journal every night’ change it to, “If it is bedtime, then I will write 3 things into my gratitude journal’.  This can also be used when we are faced with obstacles, such as being too tired or too busy. So again, we can try to fortify our commitment by proposing solutions to any barriers that we regularly put up and tell ourselves, “If I am too busy to write in my gratitude journal, then I will think of 3 things after I get into bed.”

Habits are hard, especially when we already have so many demands placed on us. Time is of the essence and energy is depleted beyond repair. But new healthy habits will give us more time or energy or money if we are able to stick and commit.

5 steps to stick and commit:

  1. Make your habit simple.
  2. Anchor it *after* a pre-existing ritual.
  3. Celebrate.
  4. Visualise the process not just the outcome.
  5. Use ‘If…then’ to stay on track.

Merry Christmas and ‘Habit’ New Year!

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Thank You Lighthouse Institute!

Lighthouse Institute, an Australian attachment and trauma informed ‘Knowledge Centre that draws on 21 years of practice at Lighthouse Foundation, recently visited us at Pathways to deliver their trauma informed training program. Lighthouse Institute has been commissioned to provide attachment and trauma informed training programs across the country to support organisations working with those who are taking part in the difficult process of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The 2-day program was delivered by Helen Lenga, a qualified psychologist who has specialist training with children and families and who has over 30 years experience working in the field of trauma as a psychotherapist, trainer, consultant and supervisor.

Along with attendees from Kids Matter, Good Start, Bush Kids, Kids ELC and Stellar Lives, we were fortunate enough to attend four sessions concerning trauma and trauma informed practice, including ‘Understanding Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Practice’, ‘A Trauma Informed Approach to Understanding Grief and Loss’, ‘Understanding Psychosocial Development’ and ‘Understanding and Working with Trauma Based Behaviour’.

The vast wealth of knowledge and advice that Helen was able to share with us will indeed impact on the way we work with services, parents, children and communities in the future. We would like to thank Helen, Lighthouse Institute and all of the attendees for making the event so informative and invaluable.

Don’t Stop Asking R U OK?

September has become synonymous with suicide prevention: World Suicide Prevention Day fell on the 10th of this month and Australia’s own R U OK? Day took place on the 11th. However, just because these two important dates have passed, it doesn’t mean that we have to stop starting life-changing conversations with the people in our lives.

The National Coalition for Suicide Prevention’s Response to The World Health Organisation World Suicide Report revealed that the most recent data indicates that suicide is on the increase with 2535 Australians taking their own lives in 2012; the highest number of annual deaths in the last decade.
If like many you’re not sure how to ask someone if they are in fact OK, or if you would like to equip yourself with some ideas to improve your listening skills, visit www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask for some fantastic tips to help start a conversation.

More Social, Less Media

Tired of Twitter? Fed up of Facebook? Well you’re not the only one. 

Social media is becoming more of an oxymoron every day. With new research suggesting that our obsession with devices can negatively affect our ability to read emotional cues in other people¹, it seems that now is the time to detach from the ‘media’ and focus on the ‘social’.

Try swapping one of your digital habits for one of the activities below and take the time to reflect on how the experience differed to the one you usually have with your device.

Gaming

Family_playing_a_board_game_(3)

1) Swap Angry Birds for Hungry Hippos. Play cards not apps. Choose board games over virtual worlds. Ok, you get the message. Blow the cobwebs off those board games and arrange a good old fashioned games night with your family or friends. Use this opportunity to model and teach your children how to deal with failure and success; show your child how to bounce back from a wrong answer rather than resorting to blame or quitting the game altogether. How often do we get these opportunities to teach such a valuable social and emotional skill?

 

Posting

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2) Post a letter rather than a status or pic. Even better, write a gratitude letter and then hand deliver it to your deserving recipient. Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking work on positive psychology has found that writing and hand delivering a gratitude letter increases happiness. In his book ‘Flourish’, Seligman asks his readers to ‘call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week.’ He then challenges you to write a 300 word letter to the person, specifically stating what the person did and how it affected you. Once written, call the person and arrange a visit, but be vague as to why  you want to see them- the surprise element makes the experience all the more fun! When you finally get to see the person, read the letter word for word. Take the time to notice how you both react to the letter and try to manage any interruptions that crop up; ensure that they get to hear every word and understand why you are so grateful. Seligman believes that this simple act will make you happier and less depressed within one month of making the visit.

3) Photos

Social media has enabled us to acquire online catalogues of photos and videos that, if privacy settings allow, can be shared and viewed by the whole world. Gone are the days when we’d have to carefully remove the roll of film from the camera, travel all that way to the shop to get them developed and then painstakingly stick each picture into an album. Although the speed and ease that modern technology has afforded us is wonderful, have we lost something else in the process? When was the last time you looked at your holiday pictures on anything but a LCD screen? Why not take that memory card out of your camera and get a few of your favourite pictures printed. Then arrange an evening with some of the subjects in those photographs and take the time to talk about the picture and remember the moment it was taken. Or take out an old album from years ago and plan a reunion. Whatever you choose to do, try to make it sociable, fun and face to face.

 For more ideas visit wwww.socialseptember.com for a full calendar of ideas.

It’s All In Your Mindset

From birth we are taught that some people are ‘talented’ and ‘gifted’ when it comes to certain traits, whether it be intelligence, creativity, personality or sporting prowess. As children, we attend schools and clubs that continually instil in us the idea that failure is bad and losing is for, well, losers.  We are told to fear failure and reap success, but what if we embraced failure? What if intelligence wasn’t fixed? What if ‘gifted’ just meant ‘resilient’?

cdweck

 

Carol S Dweck’s seminal research on the psychology of Mindsets is igniting much discussion and change in the fields of education, coaching and parenting. The Harvard Professor’s research has concluded that people have either a fixed or growth mindset when it comes to assessing certain traits and abilities. In short, those with a fixed mindset believe that certain ‘talents’ are fixed and cannot be changed, that if you have to ‘try’ to be excellent then you’re not REALLY that good after all. On the other side of the coin are those who have a growth mindset, people who don’t believe in the idea of being ‘special’ and that talent is just a starting point; true success comes from effort, engagement and tenacity. Fundamentally, Dweck tells us that intelligence and other traits that many deem as being ‘natural’ are in fact malleable and can be improved and enhanced through practice, challenge and resilience.

Dweck’s work within this area of people’s potential stems from her own experiences of having her intelligence and potential labelled by her sixth grade teacher who believed that a person’s IQ told the whole story of who they were. In her book, she describes what happened in her sixth-grade class:

Even as a child, I was focused on being smart, but the fixed mindset was really stamped in by Mrs. Wilson, my sixth-grade teacher… She believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were. We were seated around the room in IQ order, and only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal. Aside from the daily stomach-aches she provoked with her judgemental stance, she was creating a mindset in which everyone in the class had one consuming goal—look smart, don’t look dumb. Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?

Fixed Failure v Growth Failure

No matter what mindset we have, failure will always find us and for those with a growth mindset, this is a great thing as it provides yet another opportunity to learn and improve. But for those who hold a fixed mindset, failure is a crippling and distressing act that can lead to severe mental trauma. Dweck’s work explains that someone who adopts a fixed mindset when they encounter failure no longer see it as an action but rather an identity, a label that they use to judge themselves and those around them. Consequently, those who have achieved a successful outcome will turn down any further challenging opportunities that may put their ‘successful’ identity at risk for the fear of failing as ‘if you’re a somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?’ ‘This mindset’ , Dweck states, ‘gives you no good respite for overcoming it. If failure means you lack competence or potential- that you are a failure- where do you go from there?’ Thus, resiliency is abandoned for blame, anxiety and depression. The growth mindset, however, doesn’t see failure in the same pervasive manner. Dweck found that for these people, failure is still a tough pill to swallow, but it doesn’t define them. Instead, failure is something to be faced, dealt with and learnt from; as a result, these people become resilient and tenacious in many areas of their lives, from work to relationships.

The Paradox of Praise

Dweck lists many actions that parents, coaches and educators adopt to instruct and educate young children that often lead to them adopting a fixed mindset, and the most surprising one can also be the most damaging: praise. Yes, that thing that we have been told to do to build a child’s self-esteem, to reward a student who has achieved 100%, to bestow on somebody who has done something exceptional- well, it can be extremely counter productive.

Dr Dweck conducted research with hundreds of students. She gave each student a set of 10 simple problems to solve from a non-verbal IQ test. Most of the students did well and when they’d finished, she praised some of the students for their ability (“you got a high score, you must be smart”) and some for their effort (“you got a high score, you must have worked hard”).

Both groups were exactly equal to begin with but, after receiving praise, some students started to suffer. The students whose ability was praised were pushed into the fixed mindset. When they were given a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from, opting for more of the same instead. Dweck believes that this is ultimately due to the fact that they didn’t want to do anything which would expose flaws in their intelligence and bring their talent into question. In contrast, 90 per cent of the students whose effort was praised wanted to try the challenging new task precisely because they could learn from it.

Dr Dweck concluded that praising ability actually lowered students’ IQ whereas praising effort raised them. She also said that praising children’s intelligence harmed their motivation because, although children love to be praised, especially for their talents, as soon as they hit a problem their confidence disappears and their motivation stops. If success means they’re clever, then failure means they’re stupid.

Praise and Labels

Dweck’s research concludes that children have the most to lose from adopting a fixed mindset, and it is therefore essential that those of us who work with these vulnerable minds are able to use and foster a culture that reinforces a growth mindset approach to all aspects of life, from developing friendships to academic potential. And the way we praise and deliver feedback to a child is essential to this growth. Praising a child for being a ‘natural athlete’ rather than praising them for their dedication to training three evenings a week undermines their commitment and hard work; the actual skills that have lead to their athletic ability. Rewarding and labelling a student as ‘brilliant’ for finishing a test ‘quickly’ sends the message that if they don’t complete it as quickly next time, then they are not as good, and ultimately causes them distress in undertaking further challenging activities. Dweck’s work also tells us that this student would shy away from completing more challenging tests for fear of not living up to their ‘brilliance’. Instead, they would choose to undertake work that was of a similar difficulty level or easier so that they could uphold this label of being ‘brilliant’.

Fixed Mindset Narratives

But it is not surprising that this ‘fixed’ vocabulary is so often used when we evaluate performance; it has been instilled in us from a very young age through stories of success. Dweck uses the example of the tale of the tortoise and the hare to exemplify this point: the moral of this narrative is that success is either determined by being naturally talented (the speedy hare) or by expanding no effort (the slow and steady tortoise). Both of these assessments reinforce a fixed mindset when it comes to achievement as although the tortoise wins, it is not through problem solving, devising strategies or skilful collaboration; he too focuses on his ‘inherent’ capabilities and just slowly plods on.

The outcome of Dweck’s dedicated research seems more common sense than ground-breaking study: effort, resilience and tenacity are the real ingredients for success and potential, not ‘special gifts’ and ‘natural talents’. As Dweck states in her book, ‘what’s so heroic about having a gift?’ And she’s right: surely it’s more impressive to value your achievements based on how they were achieved as opposed to what was achieved. These findings are also nothing new when it comes to pedagogy; Benjamin Bloom, an eminent educational researcher renowned for his work with high achievers concluded that, “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” Thus, the foundations we lay for young people as they build their skills and capabilities must be conducive to growth and make room for failure; only then will they be able to fulfil their potential.

Changing Your Mindset

What is most promising from Dr. Dweck’s research is that we can change our mindsets from fixed to growth through our understanding of how the brain works. From educating others about the neurological processes behind stress to knowing strategies for enhancing neuroplasticity, we are able to not only change our own mindsets but also those around us: our communities, our families, our students and our children.

Grow Your Mindset:

Choose Neuroscience over Neuroses!

Neuroscience has changed our understanding of intelligence and has shown that your brain can grow. Make neuroscience a focus for your personal and professional development.

If you fall, bounce back up!

Failure has become one of the ugliest words in our vernacular and people will do anything and everything to avoid it. And if they can’t avoid it, they let it consume them. Practice resilience building skills and see every adversity as an opportunity.

Plan for Positivity!

Have you avoided doing something because it involves a risk to your supposed ‘identity’? Not trying out for a sports team? Avoiding certain ‘talented’ peers? Stop hiding and start planning! Make a plan to do something that you’ve always wanted to but were too afraid. Make sure the plan is achievable by forming habits that encourage consistency and are also realistic. Committing to joining a social soccer club and planning to leave work early one evening a week to train is much more rewarding and empowering than planning to be captain of the Soccerooos. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but having smaller, achievable goals will make the likelihood of you owning the next captaincy all the more realistic.

For further research examples, watch Carol Dweck’s talk from the ‘Happiness & Its Causes’ Conference that was held in Melbourne last October.

New Study Reveals SEL Program Increases Literacy and Numeracy Skills and Decreases Behaviour Problems in Early Childhood.

Researchers at New York University have found that a Social and Emotional Learning Program aimed at decreasing behavioural problems in order to increase academic competencies has improved the reading and mathematic skills among low income kindergärtners and first graders.

The importance of SEL programs in the curriculum has always been met with contention due to the often conflicting demands of the education system: academic intelligence is often held in higher regard than emotional and social intelligence as universities and employers make offers based on students’ academic performance rather than their wellbeing and social skills. With so many time constraints dictating the content of the curriculum, educators are often forced to prioritise their time teaching the material that will ultimately lead to positive academic outcomes for students and reaching their appropriate level as opposed to their optimal social and emotional wellbeing. Researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt Department have conducted a study that finally illuminates the correlation between increased  social and emotional skills and improved academic performance, concluding that the implementation of an SEL program to curb behavioural issues and promote self-regulatory practices ALSO benefits students reading and math skills as students utilise the SEL strategies to improve their focus and engagement in daily classroom activities.
In their study, researchers at New York University selected 22 schools from low-income neighbourhoods and randomly assigned 11 of them to the SEL program INSIGHTS and the other 11 to a supplemental reading program. All in all, 435 children across 122 classrooms participated in 10 weekly sessions, with parents also receiving training concerning child management strategies throughout the 10 week period to provide consistency in the approaches being adopted inside and outside the classroom.

The Results
The results of the study provided convincing evidence of the benefits of a universal SEL program, not just on self-regulation, but for improving children’s academic development. Children who took part in the INSIGHTS program demonstrated:
INCREASED math achievement;
INCREASED reading achievement;
INCREASED sustained attention;
DECREASED behavioural problems.

A NEW APPROACH TO BOOST LITERACY AND NUMERACY
The findings suggest that schools would benefit from implementing a SEL program to boost literacy in young students rather than the common low-dose supplementary reading programs, as SEL programs enable students to develop attention and behavioural skills that are required to engage and focus in daily classroom activities. Additionally, this research reinforces the link between focus and function as the study concluded that SEL programs help students develop and practice the self-regulatory skills that they need to engage in daily numeracy activities in the classroom. This evidence has never been more necessary in our early years education; with research after research telling us that children who fail to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills by an early age are much more likely to drop out of school (Hernadez 2011; Duncan 2011), early childhood intervention could dramatically impact upon the education outcomes of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The findings from the study once again highlight the many benefits of implementing a Social and Emotional Learning program that works with students, educators and families within schools and communities.

To read the full journal, click here

UK Report Advises Schools to Build Emotional Resiliency in Students

A UK report is calling for happiness classes to become part of school life, to help improve young people’s deteriorating mental health in the wake of research that warns that approximately 10% of children currently have a mental health disorder which has led to more young people turning to alcohol, cannabis and self-harm.

happiness report

Early intervention

The report entitled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: A New Ambition for our Mental Health’ from the Centre Forum Mental Health Commission calls for much needed prioritising and promotion of the mental health of children and young people from conception onwards. The report highlights the need for early intervention as ‘three quarters of lifetime cases [of mental health issues] are diagnosed before the age of 25 and half of all lifetime cases are diagnosed before the age of 14…However the majority of [UK] public spending on mental health is focused on crisis intervention and longer‐term acute care and support, rather than on prevention and early intervention.”

Parent and School Intervention

Proposals set out in the report include a requirement for teachers to educate children on how to look after their mental health, parenting programmes for families of children with behavioural problems, and regular development assessments at key stages during a person’s childhood.

In reference to schools, the report recommends that:

  • The national curriculum should include the requirement to teach children and young people how to look after their mental health and build emotional resilience through approaches such as mindfulness.
  • Teachers and other educational staff should receive training in child development, mental health and psychological resilience to enable them to identify children who are vulnerable.
  • For children experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems, there should be increased access to psychological and other therapies in schools or in the community.

Transforming Powers

The Commission urges governments to prioritise investment in the mental health of children and teenagers. It says this will not just transform people’s life chances but reduce the costs to society of low educational attainment, negative behaviour, worklessness, crime, and antisocial behaviour. Prof Sue Bailey, Chair of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition and outgoing President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I am delighted that this report points out the current stark reality of lack of resourcing for the well being, resilience and mental health of all children and young people from conception to adulthood. But more importantly the report offers practical steps that move from the rhetoric to the reality of how to best invest in the well being and mental health of children and young people. How to deliver effective early identification, assessment, timely support and treatment because our children simply deserve better.”