“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 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.