“I could do anything .  .  . if only I knew what it was”.

Psychologists and inspired bloggers will tell you that happiness comes from having goals.

Studies have shown that happy people have two things in common:                         1. knowing what they want                                                                                       2. feeling that they are currently moving towards achieving it

It is important to have passions and direction; to set goals which are challenging, that generate personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement, and promote hope and optimism.

But what if you don’t have any goals? Or you don’t know what you want? Perhaps you just have a sense of restlessness, an idea that your life could be different somehow, that you need to make some changes. Yet you have no idea what those changes might be?

In the early 1990’s, I came across a book by Barbara Sher, entitled “I could do anything if only I knew what it was”.  At the time I was a newly single mum with two young kids, transitioning into a new career, deftly balancing a diverse range of activities and responsibilities. Life was rich but exhausting. Some days I felt exhilarated and satisfied, yet other days brought frustration and resentment.  I needed to start setting priorities and making changes.  To do that, however, I needed to get back in touch with myself.

By lucky coincidence, Sher’s book appeared on my desk at work at this time. ( I actually don’t believe in coincidences – rather I see them as opportunities  – but that is another story). I will not try to summarize this insightful book here, but rather share with you some of the ideas that I still recall and embrace today. Possibly it may help you to start working out what your ‘it’ is.

  1. Messages

From the time we are born, we receive a constant stream of messages about how we are supposed to be. These come from parents, teachers, media, religious leaders, politicians and the community. Often these messages are contradictory. We may be told to ‘be independent’ but also ‘do what you are told’. ‘Stand up for yourself’ but ‘don’t be selfish’. ‘Take a risk’ but ‘don’t do anything dangerous’.

We can spend so much time trying to work out what we are supposed to be that we do not get time to work out what we want to be. I can certainly remember the challenge of trying to please those around me by being what they expected me to be. The problem? They all expected different things, so I was doomed to fail anyway.

Fortunately for me, there were a couple of supportive voices that asked me about me, and I was able to start to forge my own path, albeit within very narrow confines. It was only later, through some wise mentors and my professional training, that I was able to challenge and dismiss many of these messages.

Challenge: Pick up a pen and paper, and recall some of the messages you remember receiving as you grew up? Think back to what your parents or teachers said you should be. Or perhaps your peers, or the media? Which ones don’t sit right with you? Why not? Make a decision to dismiss the constraining messages.

  1. Touchstones

Sher argues that to find out what we really want to be, we should reflect on those things in our life that truly ‘make our heart sing’. These are our passions, and the clues to what would make our lives more satisfying and alive. Sher refers to these as our personal ‘touchstones’.

Touchstones are many and varied. Mine are the beach, music, my relationship, gardens, teaching, travel, my sons, dinner with friends, social change, the theatre, a good book, community service… A fulfilled life does not necessitate that I only follow my passions to the exclusion of my responsibilities. However, our touchstones are the clues to the changes we need to make in our lives.

Challenge: What are your touchstones? When you were young, what were those things that made your heart sing?  Are there some of these things in your life now? Do you need to make more time and opportunities for what makes your heart sing? How can you blend what you have to do with what you love?

  1. Fantasies

Don’t ignore your fantasies. When we were young we could imagine rich and astounding possibilities. Then we grow up and tell ourselves to be sensible and realistic.

One day, in frustration or desperation, we might find ourselves fantasizing.  “ I just wish I could just turn right here, drive to the airport and jump on the first plane to anywhere” ( I confess this was my thought one morning driving into work!). As sensible grownups, we then remind ourselves that this notion is neither responsible nor practical, and dismiss it as foolish nonsense. Sher says that we should not dismiss these fantasies outright. Instead we should listen for the clues in it that point to what we are really needing in our lives.

In my example, the idea of turning up to an airport without clothes, passport or funds was ludicrous. However there were clues there – this fantasy was about spontaneity, change of routine, time out, adventure. And those things are not irresponsible or impractical. In fact, paying closer attention to my fantasy, helped me to make some feasible changes and to set some new achievable goals. There is much truth in the saying ‘a change is as good as a holiday’

Challenge: What are your fantasies? Your outrageous wishes? What clues lie within them? What needs would they fulfill? Are there other ways you could actually meet these needs in your life? Is there one thing you could do differently?

Sher’s ideas were very useful in problem solving my dilemmas at that time. In fact, I was so impressed that I developed a workshop around them to share the wisdom with others.

So if you are feeling restless and in need of change, but don’t know what that change might be, take some time out to reflect. What messages are limiting you? What are your touchstones? What are the clues in your frustrated outbursts and outrageous dreams?

Remember that we can all be more happy and fulfilled but ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’

If you would like professional support to identify and plan your goals for positive change, call Anne-Marie on 0423155963 or email to learnwithclark@gmail.com

Barbara Sher’s book is still in print (available on Amazon) and worth reading.

 

Introducing the Enneagram for Coaching

The Enneagram is a system for comprehensively assessing your personality type. Many people would be familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality testing, often used in the workplace, which classifies each of us into sixteen personality types based on four dichotomies. In recent times the Big Five character assessment, based on the 5 key traits of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, has been a popular self assessment tool. The Enneagram, however, provides a much broader and versatile personality assessment.

What makes the Enneagram unique is that, as well as promoting self-understanding through personality typing, it also explains the ‘why’ behind our traits and behaviours and provides a map for future growth and development.

While relatively new to Australia in it’s current form, the Enneagram dates back thousands of years to early Asian, Middle Eastern and Celtic cultures. The modern version was developed in recent times in the US by Don Riso and Russ Hudson who established the Enneagram Institute.

Businesses use the Enneagram to gain insights into team dynamics and improve working relationships. Some people use it in their spiritual growth as a pathway to enlightenment.  Individuals can use it to increase Emotional intelligence (EQ) through better understanding the relationship they have with themselves and how they interact with others.

As a counsellor, I find it to be an excellent tool for improving communication and conflict resolution and in promoting healthy personal growth. The Enneagram helps us identify our response patterns to situations, what drives and motivates us, and our fears and avoidance behaviours. This information is an important ingredient in any mentoring or coaching process.

There are different schools of thought among Enneagram teachers, therefore their ideas on some theoretical aspects are not always in agreement. In Australia there are now local trainers who probably bring a unique local perspective, though the basic premises are still the same.

Click on this link for a brief and simplified explanation of the Enneagram that I have used with adolescents and parents.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I  do not claim to be an Enneagram trainer. However, I am an experienced therapist who uses the principles of the Enneagram to help clients become more intuitive about their personal style, to promote more effective growth and change.

For information about the Enneagram, training and formal assessment, please check the following links:

The Enneagram Institute

The Enneagram in Business

The Australian Institute for Enneagram Studies

 

What is Life Coaching?

Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life

Coaching is a unique and individual experience that targets the growth and development needs of the client. The client’s goals are clarified and developed in partnership with the coach, who then provides a broader perspective, offering relevant knowledge, insight, and feedback.

While coaching once belonged to the work sector for professional development, now individuals can embrace life coaching to identify their personal needs, establish goals that are practical and realistic, and to maintain motivation through ongoing feedback and support.

It doesn’t matter who you used to be; what matters is who you decide to be today.

There are three types of coaching:

Short term – just a few sessions, often weekly, to work on a specific goal

Long term – regular mentoring sessions, often for professional development. Most commonly these clients are professionals seeking leadership opportunities or new graduates wanting to develop career goals. However, longer term coaching can be useful for anyone planning retirement, moving back into the workplace, returning to study or seeking a career change.

Crisis (for previous clients) – one or two sessions to problem-solve and plan in response to an unexpected, stressful event. Coaching is not suitable for individuals with acute or chronic issues or mental health concerns. Referral to an appropriate counsellor would be the most useful intervention in these cases.

What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet.

Steve Maraboli

So what can you expect in a coaching session? In her book “Bring Out The Best In Everyone You Coach”, Ginger Lapid-Bodga identifies four main steps in the coaching process.

The first step is to establish your motivation to change. Why is it important to you? What will happen if you do not achieve your goal? What other things will change if you follow this pathway? How much energy do you have to do this?

Sometimes procrastination is a decision that you have already made, but not yet admitted to yourself

Secondly, your goal(s) need to be clearly identified and scaffolded into smaller goals.  The more specific your goal, the greater the likelihood of longer lasting change. It is important to test whether your goals are realistic yet challenging.

Your speed doesn’t matter; forward is forward.

Thirdly, an action plan is developed which should include realistic time frames and positive reinforcement. At this stage the coach will also help you identify and master the skills and cognitions(self-talk) needed to achieve success at each stage. An introduction to the ideas of positive psychology can be useful at this point.

A great attitude becomes a great mood, which becomes a great day, which becomes a great year, which become a great life.

Finally,  before embarking on any change, it is important to explore any resistance to new change. What has stopped you before ? Why is it there? What weaknesses and fears get in the way of doing something new? How will you recognize them? What purpose do they serve? How can they be overcome or reassured? It is important to be prepared and on the lookout for familiar obstacles and have solutions ready to take on these challenges.

Maybe the thing you are most scared of is exactly what you should do

The Enneagram personality typing model enhances the coaching process. Each unique personality type has a specific style –  whether it be patterns of behaviour, motivation or fears, strengths and challenges. The opportunity to fully understand an individual’s personality type, using an established tool, allows the coach to design personalized activities and feedback that are best suited to the client.

To find out more about the Enneagram read my article  Introducing The Enneagram. For information on Positive Psychology click on the link.

The best life coach for you is someone you can relate to easily, who has broad and direct experience in personal growth and development, understands your individuality, can be creative and informative but also someone you can trust to challenge you respectfully. I believe that I could be that person for you. To help you decide this for your self, I offer a 25% discount on your first session.

Just remember…

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.

Dalai Lama

Tips for meeting assessment deadlines

For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.                                                                                                       Benjamin Franklin

Getting organized and staying organized is a challenge for most people, but an important hurdle to overcome for high school students.

When students struggle at school, it is not always because they lack the intellectual capability, but more commonly because they do not know how to plan and structure their work. This leaves them feeling over-whelmed and prone to last minute panic. Not a recipe for good grades!

The most successful business people will always stress the importance of goal-setting, brainstorming and action planning. Having a clear and logical list of tasks for each day, establishing priorities, committing to these tasks and then reviewing plans for the next day, are vital strategies for achieving long term goals.

For the high school student, this translates to recording deadlines, scaffolding tasks and setting timelines.

I have to confess here that I am an avid list maker. It is one of the key reasons my students and colleagues see me as an organized and efficient person. But the list, by itself, is not enough. Each item on the list needs to be broken down into small manageable steps, each with their own mini deadlines.

We spend a lot of mental energy trying to keep track of all the things we need to remember. Putting them on paper frees up some of that mental energy.                                                                                                                                                                                 Ballard

When beginning high school, students are usually handed a diary and encouraged to use it daily to record homework and due dates.

As a nightly homework tool it is very useful. It reminds students which books and accessories to take home that night and provides a record of that evening’s set work. Used consistently, it is a great tool to keep up with daily homework.

To train your child to use this tool, get into the habit of asking to see their diary each night. If they know you are checking, they are more likely to get into good habits.

But as the demands of high school increase, the diary is not enough.

Students are encouraged to use their diary to record due dates for assignments and upcoming tests. But a date scribbled on a page a few weeks ahead, is not a useful planning strategy.

Assignment deadlines require a planning process with a formal timeline to ensure that the student has completed the appropriate preparation and paperwork by the due date.

But an A3 sheet of blank paper, some coloured textas and a cheap note pad can do the trick. Want to learn more?

If your child needs help to get organized, take some time over the holiday break to share 6 Steps to Successfully Meeting Deadlines with them.

If you feel that your child could benefit from some individual mentoring or tutoring, click on this link for more information.

Is praising your child really helping them?

Do you praise your child all the time?

You are so clever.
I was so proud when you kicked that goal.
That painting is amazing.
You were the best singer on the stage tonight.
You are a natural!

Since the emergence of modern psychology in the late seventies, we have been encouraged to praise our children, to build their self esteem and confidence, believing that this will increase their chances of being successful adults.

We certainly know from experience that doing the opposite, constantly criticizing and setting unrealistic expectations, can destroy confidence and motivation.

But is constantly praising your child really helping them grow and succeed? Are we giving our children too much praise?

If used too much, praise can become ineffective.
⦁ When children are constantly praised they can come to expect it every        time they do something.
⦁ When children are told that everything they do is amazing, they will           never understand the idea of learning and improving.
⦁ Children can become addicted to praise and will tend to give up on             things too easily when they find them to be difficult
⦁ Constant praise can give a child unrealistic beliefs about their own             abilities and they can struggle with real life experiences like not getting     an A or missing out on team selection.
⦁ A child who is constantly praised will come to believe that only ‘dumb’       kids need to make an effort, and can lack motivation

Carol Dweck is a professor of developmental psychology at Stanford University who has recently conducted some interesting research which has addressed this issue of praise.

Contrary to popular belief, praising children’s intelligence did not give them confidence and did not make them learn better                                                                                                    Carol Dweck

In her research she discovered that children who are constantly praised for their intelligence, actually perform significantly less well than those who are encouraged for their efforts.
When faced with a difficult challenge, children who get too much praise take less risks, are more likely to give up and are very sensitive to any constructive feedback.

For a brief summary of her research, check out this video

Simply put, the kids who were told that they were intelligent believed that they could do well without any effort, but avoided tasks that might not earn them success and praise, or have people think less of them.

But those who had their efforts acknowledged felt encouraged to continue to try harder, finding the challenge interesting and rewarding in itself.

Parents should take away the fact that they are not giving their children a gift when they tell them how brilliant and talented they are,” Dweck says. “They are making them believe they are valued only for being intelligent, and it makes them not want to learn.”

So what does all this mean for parents and teachers?
Building confidence and self-esteem is still important, but to promote resilience in children we should focus on encouragement rather than praise.

Don’t get me wrong! Praise is okay if it is realistic and deserved. But even the child who scores the goal or earns the A grade in Maths can be better supported by acknowledging their efforts and encouraging them to take on new challenges or extend themselves beyond their compfort zone.

In their article Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids by Murphy and Allen, the authors suggest that parents and teachers should not be afraid to withhold praise. If praise is used it should more specific, such as focusing on the effort they made, the problem-solving strategies they used and their determination and willingness to take risks and make mistakes.

“For instance, next time your son gets an A on an exam for which you know he hardly studied, tell him you think he should try a tougher class next semester. When he scores the winning touchdown, instead of telling him he’s the best player on the team, ask him how he trained to run so fast.
The flip side is that parents must be honest when their children do not perform as well as their peers. If your daughter finishes last at the track meet, and you know it is because she’s younger and less experienced than other competitors, it is better to tell her that she did not deserve to win because she still needs improvement than to tell her you thought she was the best, no matter what the judges said.”

So what does encouragement look like?
While praise focuses on the outcome or result, encouragement focuses on the journey the child undertook.

How much effort did they make?
Did they get involved?
Did they experiment and try new things?
Were they enjoying the challenge?
Did they perservere when things got hard?
Were they organised?
Did they have a plan of attack?

Positive, realistic feedback is important. Do not tell a child something is wonderful if it is not. Start with the positives, but ask them to tell you the things that they could improve next time. Reinforce the importance of making mistakes in the learning process – that they are to be embraced, not feared and avoided.

Encouraging parents do not worry if their child gets a little anxious when trying something new. Instead they model their belief that the child will cope. They still have expectations but focus on the importance of the journey, rather than the final outcome. Let’s be honest – not everyone is going to become the next Picasso, Usain Bolt or Stephen Hawkins.

So here are my five simple (but vital) tips for parents and teachers.
1. Listen to your kids but allay their fears and anxieties (and don’t pass on your own)
2. Give your children (reasonable) responsibilities that demonstrate your faith in their abilities
3. Help your children identify and acknowledge their strengths
4. When that term report arrives, focus more on the comments about effort and improvement, and less on the final grade
5. Help your child to accept that making mistakes is a normal part of learning

Would these ideas be useful to present at a staff meeting or a parent evening? Go to my workshops link

For more articles about Dweck’s research and Mindset Psychology click on the links below.

Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids by Ann Pleshette Murphy and Jennifer Allen

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids by Carol Dweck

What is Resilience?

 

What is resilience? Simply put, resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. Adversity can range from serious loss or a hurtful event to the disappointment of missing out on something or failing at a task. Resilience is the ability to adapt and change to situations, learning from them and improving the chances of successfully dealing with unexpected or challenging things in the future.

Resilience is not about struggling alone. Rather it means harnessing your personal and external resources.

It is impossible to protect children from all the things that may disappoint or upset them in their lives. In fact, over-protecting children can result in learning problems.

In her book, The Pampered Child Syndrome, Maggie Mamen suggests that “The dependent learner, who relies on, and receives, direction and constant bolstering from adults, will have a very difficult time developing the confidence to become a competent, risk-taking problem-solver”. Such children “will not even consider tackling this often painful and frustrating task because of the discomfort it causes

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

Charles Darwin

A resilient child is characterized by their flexibility, hopefulness, optimism about the future, positive self-esteem and their strong relationships with others.

Resilience, despite common belief, is not a personality trait that we are born with. Rather it is a set of skills, attitudes and learned behaviours that can be influenced and facilitated by the child’s environment. As parents, we can guide and support our children to better cope with changes, disappointments and challenges.

Research has discovered that resilient children share most of the following factors:

  • The ability to stay focused on tasks
  • Problem – solving skills
  • Self -regulation of emotions
  • Self – efficacy and positive self esteem
  • Being involved in groups (sport, religious or community)
  • Optimism about the future
  • Feeling valued and knowing their strengths
  • Contact with caring and competent adults

Why is resilience important?

Resilient children are flexible and cope better with change and uncertainty. Their optimism and confidence helps them to resolve problems more easily; mastering tasks increases self-esteem and generates hopefulness about future challenges. Resilient children, therefore, tend to be happier, sociable, positive thinkers, and are less likely to develop mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

You cannot appreciate the sun until you go through a rainy day

Matthew Johnstone

How can you help your child learn to be more resilient?

Help them to develop a more positive view of their strengths and abilities. Redirect any discussion about what they cannot do. Show them how they can apply their strengths to solve problems and deal with difficult situations. Teach them to use positive self-talk like “I think I can” or “I cannot do it yet”.

Stop them from disasterizing. Don’t try to protect them from difficult feelings and situations. Help them to keep things in perspective. People make mistakes, are disappointed, lose friends, struggle to learn new skills every day. Making mistakes and overcoming difficulties is how we learn and become stronger.

Acknowledge their feelings but then help them to look towards the future.

Help them to accept things that cannot be changed, and encourage them to make plans to change those things that they can influence. Remind them that the longer they hold onto their negative feelings, the longer it will take to improve a situation.

Check that their plans and goals are realistic and help them to break their goals down into small, achievable steps. No one achieves all their goals, so encourage them to acknowledge their efforts each day.

Encourage them to reach out – to make new friends, spend time with other positive adults and take part in group activities. Children who are able to develop supportive, healthy relationships tend to cope much better with life’s difficulties. These relationships can also help them develop other resilience skills.

Talk to them without judgement. Find out more about their fears and dreams. Teach them to communicate their needs and ideas clearly and openly, and provide lots of fun games and activities that use problem-solving.

Encourage a positive outlook for the future by helping them to recall all the good things they have experienced and achieved so far. Family photo albums and gratitude journals are good starting points.

Help them to visualize a positive outcome when facing a situation that provokes fear. If the fear is based on a previous negative experience, revisit that incident with them to identify some ways where they could have handled the situation differently.

Remember! Resilience is not a personality trait. It is a learnt set of skills, behaviours and attitudes.

Feel like learning more?                                                                           Watch this inspiring story – Sam: My Philosophy for a Happy Life

Would these ideas be useful to present at a staff meeting or a parent evening? Go to my workshops link.

Further reading

You might be interested in these:

The big little book of resilience by Matthew Johnstone (Pan MacMillan Australia)

Resilience series for teachers by Annie Greeff (Crown House Pub Ltd)

One Step Ahead: Raising 3 to 12 Year Olds by Michael Grose (Random House Australia)

The Pampered Child Syndrome by Maggie Maman (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

 

Factors that influence Learning

We are all unique individuals with unique talents and preferences.

We all have the ability to learn, but we each have a personal learning style, and our own natural strengths and weaknesses.

By the time they start school, each child has learnt to walk, talk, play and create in their own style and in their own time.

When a child learns to walk, it is a process of trial and error, bumps and bruises, frustrations and experimentation.

But they persevere – because they want to explore their world and be like everyone else.

They are wired to learn, but they are also warmly and proudly encouraged by the adults on the sidelines. Everyone expects that, before they learn to walk, there will be many failed attempts. But each time, with encouragement from the sidelines, they will readjust their efforts with the insight gained from their earlier mistakes.

Then, one day, they will take those first tentative steps and the sidelines will cheer. The child is praised for their efforts and encouraged to venture further. (They are not graded for their learning outcome!!)

They will take on more challenges on two feet, trusting their ability to develop stronger skills and to overcome new obstacles.

But then … things can start to change for some children!

Difficulties in learning may not just be related to ability. Yes it is true that genetically we are all different. We have some natural gifts and the potential to develop others. In some areas, that potential is harder to embrace, and we will not be excellent at everything, no matter how hard we try. But all human beings have the potential to grow and learn, providing the conditions are right.

Learning requires persistence and optimism,  yet many students have lost or not yet developed these strengths.

Learning requires motivation and organization, but many students are overwhelmed by the scope and quantity of the demands on them. They lose focus and confidence, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Learning requires insight which comes from taking risks and being curious. However, many students have stopped asking questions and trying new things due to negative experiences in the past.

Learning requires self-belief, yet many students quickly learn to measure their success by the grade they receive and not the effort and progress they made. Failure to achieve an A grade, no matter how much progress was made, can quickly translate into a sense of failure as a person.

Everyone has the ability to learn, but each person starts at a different point with different learning styles and at their own pace. In the classroom some individuals may struggle to keep up with the pace and level of their peers, and can benefit from individually tailored approaches.

Before you know how to ride a bicycle,

you don’t know how to ride a bicycle

To learn how to ride a bicycle takes courage, optimism and eagerness to learn. It starts with a struggle, a little nervousness, trial and error, wobbling, falling sometimes, feedback from others, approximations, encouragement, going at your own pace, starting on a clear, smooth surface, wobbling some more, straightening up, relaxing a little, venturing further, getting confident, speeding up, feeling in control… and they’re off!

Learning to solve a Maths problem, to speak in Italian or to write a history essay is no different. Students need to remember that before they are successful, they will not know what they are doing. And to struggle with not knowing is not only okay, it is vital in the learning process.

But they also need the right conditions – time and space, encouragement for effort, a safe place to experiment and take risks, patient guidance and feedback, and an environment that breeds optimism and is free of judgement.

There are many amazing teachers doing amazing things in classrooms, creating great conditions for learning. However, some students need extra individual support to account for their unique learning style and pace, to address earlier gaps in their learning, or to rebuild optimism and self-belief that has been lost through past negative experiences.

If you believe your child could benefit from some individual mentoring then please feel free to contact me.