How are you today?

Any student of mine knows that my priority in class is their well-being, which is why classes usually begin with: How are you? How’s your day going? What’s new and exciting?

I’m sure that most teachers would agree that a happy student is a learning student (at least, more likely to be learning student!)

So coming across one of Martin Sellgman’s latest books, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, NY, USA, 2011) was a fascinating find. In this book, Seligman describes the research and explains the principles behind his innovative theory of Positive Psychology.

Today I thought I’d share three takeaways from his exciting work.

  1. Optimism can be learned.

What does that mean? Let me give you an example, when dogs were exposed to electric shocks and were unable to control them, they learned that they had no control over their circumstances. However, if they were given the means to control the shocks, they would and therefore avoided potential shocks.  Similarly, we as humans learn at a very young age whether we have any control over our environment or not. Unfortunately, if we feel we have no impact no matter what we do, we will have a tendency to experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

However, the good news is: if we learned helplessness, then we can unlearn it, and take control of our reactions to our circumstances, thereby choosing optimism. Maybe you weren’t good at using verb tenses in English. You are not doomed to perish in a tenseless existence! You can learn. The question is not: Why do I have to learn these when I’m useless?, but rather: I have a bit of difficulty in this area, but I can do something about it. What tools, tricks or resources can I use to make a bit of progress? Optimism can be learned.

2. Positive Psychology focuses on mental health (not illness).

When Seligman began his research, it was hard for him to get funding. No-one wanted to invest in this strange new idea that perhaps it would be better to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Once he got the ball rolling, however, the money came rolling in too. In fact, today Seligman’s work is being taught in educational, military, political and corporate settings around the world.

Why? The theory doesn’t focus solely on ridding people of their mental illnesses, but more on leveraging the five ingredients proven to enhance well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (thus the acronym, PERMA).

What do I mean? Let’s say you know you have a learning disability, maybe you’re dyslexic. You still remember the shame and embarrassment when a teacher told you you’d never be any good at learning English since you had no memory for grammar rules, never mind spelling irregular verbs or strange-sounding words in foreign languages.

Putting the dyslexia aside, perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of, I enjoy my English class with my colleagues. We have a good time. We laugh and learn together. Everyone makes jokes and it certainly makes for a terrific break from the humdrum of my regular work! That’s an example of positive emotion. Perhaps just that will help motivate you to continue taking classes when the going gets tough.

Or maybe the heady feeling of accomplishment, having overcome a difficulty and proven you can do it despite the odds, or for the sheer fun of it, will keep you motivated.

Whatever the means, focus on one of these elements of well-being either at work or in class, and see what difference it makes.

3. Gratitude +  Love of Learning = Well-being

Another researcher, Barry Kauffman, a peer of Martin Seligman, decided to run some tests and do the math to determine the two values that were most important to attain PERMA (link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/which-character-strengths-are-most-predictive-of-well-being/). He found that they were gratitude and love of learning. I love that!

How can we develop gratitude? Seligman recommends people ask themselves on a regular basis this simple question: What went well? You simple cannot remain negative when you are focusing on the positive!

The love of learning value comes into play once the list of positive events is compiled. The follow-up questions are obvious: How can I make this happen more often? What do I need to do?

Coming out of class tomorrow, either as teacher or student, ask yourself the questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I get more of that? What do I need to do?  No matter the misunderstandings or seemingly unsurmountable challenges, an upward spiral of optimism and hope is sure to ensue.

So, how are you? What went well for you today? Let’s keep the gratitude energy flowing! Drop me a line in the Comments section.

  • Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/fizkes]

Is lack of focus always that bad?

Last weekend, a friend of mine posted on Facebook an informative infographic about AD/HD (attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity) symptoms. An iceberg illustration showed the multi-level ways that the disorder can affect an individual’s life.

A friend replied with the comment:  “Most people possess at least one of these attributes! Does this therefore mean everyone is ADHD?”

Valid question, indeed. And one that merits a detailed answer.

However, I can only speak from my experience. I was diagnosed with ADD about ten years ago now.

ADD (I’ll be using this form, since it is the type I experience) is hurrying through your shower to answer this question in a blog before you lose your train of thought. Don’t look at anything. Switch off your hearing, you may get side-tracked.

ADD is explaining an activity to your students, and noticing a car get stopped by the police for speeding on the high way directly outside the window of your conference room classroom.

ADD is stopping mid-sentence as you participate in a discussion because a beautiful snowy owl just paused to land on the lamppost of the company parking lot beneath your classroom window.

ADD is feeling embarrassed when a student asks the difference between the words themselves and theirselves, and suddenly having a blank for no apparent reason, even though English is your mother tongue.

ADD is meeting a former student’s little sister that you used to say hi to nearly every day of the school year, getting her confused with her younger sister you just spoke to, and then realizing you have forgotten her name.

ADD is preparing a class, objectives, explanations, examples, video, exercises and game based on a learning difficulty you noticed a student had, and getting to class, and being on the point of presenting the class, when you suddenly realize that you made a mistake It wasn’t that student, it was another that had that difficulty.

ADD is the anxiety that seizes you as you cruise along the high way on the way to work when you suddenly realize you forgot to take your medication.

ADD is mulling over the day when you get home and recalling the fun moments, and suddenly feel ashamed at the way you blurted out a negative comment about a situation, unprofessional and totally uncalled for, and wishing with all your heart you could just delete it – and hoping the person forgot.

The key words:  suddenly realize… anxiety…embarrassment…distraction forgetfulness…impulsivity…blurt…

This is ADD. Though many people may experience the occasional bouts of forgetfulness or distraction, for a person with ADD it is a normal part of life. You want to get rid of it to just be like ‘everyone else’.

The main take-aways I got from attending a CHADD (Children & Adults with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactive Disorder) multidisciplinary conference in Orlando, Florida in 2011, was that ADD/HD:

  1. a) is a real disorder, that usual comes with other disorders;
  2. b) affects all areas of an individual’s life: personal, professional, school, legal etc.
  3. c) treatment is multimodal (and no guarantee of a cure for all the unwanted symptoms!)

 

ADD affects various parts of the brain, such as the frontal cortex (which controls emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, and judgment) and the cerebellum (which controls sensory input and our movement, whether it be speech, posture or balance). That means a person with ADD will tend to be forgetful, easily distracted, impulsive, somewhat disorganized… and a lot of fun – since you never know what links their mind will make or what unexpected thing they will say!

Although I take medication, meditate, exercise, practice mindfulness and adopt strategies, being a teacher with ADD is a challenge. Over the years, I have learned to accept the diagnosis; I am not ADD. I deal with it and go beyond the label. It’s just a condition that adds some unexpected spice to my classroom and daily occupations.

Therefore, to go back to the question with which this post began: Does everyone have ADHD? No, definitely not. After all, people forget things, and they are impulsive on occasion. But for someone with AD/HD, life is a constant challenge as they try to cover all the eventualities of a forgetful and distracted mind. A day without medication, is a day without order. Neglecting proper nutrition and regular exercise and meditation can cause a lack of focus.

But is lack of focus always that bad? In my books, lack of focus is often the prerequisite to fun, discovery and wonder.

Have a fun day!

Claire :o)

 

[Photo: Shutterstock/HBRH)