I recently listened to a podcast that discussed the themes of feeling valued versus feeling recognized. Some research was done in the workplace that took an in-depth look at how leaders pay attention to the people that they are responsible for leading. The study showed that recognizing someone for good work they had done definitely had a positive impact on the person, but that this impact was short-lived. The study indicated that there was a roughly 23% increase in productivity over the short term after a person had been recognized for a job well done but levels of productivity steadily declined over time.
However, leaders who consistently made people genuinely feel valued and appreciated in the workplace had much more of a long term impact on levels of productivity. Some studies had shown a 50% increase in productivity over the long term. Studies of the brain also showed that both the giver and receiver of acts of appreciation had increased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This chemical is what helps to regulate mood and social behavior. There is a direct link between low levels of serotonin and depression and other mood disorders.
Showing others that they matter and that they are valued is not only the job of leaders. When was the last time that you let a colleague, family member, friend or even a stranger, such as the clerk at the store who regularly serves you, know that they are appreciated and valued?
It's amazing that the simple act of showing appreciation for others and letting them know that they are genuinely valued can work wonders. Why is it that we have so much difficulty in doing this? What is it that we fear about expressing to others that they really matter and the reason why you think that they matter? Sitting quietly and reflecting is a great form of mindfulness in action. Try taking 5 minutes to sit in solitude and to reflect on the people that you value in your life both personally and professionally. Try to identify why it is that you value them. Make a conscious effort to let this somebody know that you value them either in a written note or better yet, let them know in person.
This random act of kindness can literally make someone's day. I challenge you to do this at least 3 times in the next week. I promise to do the same. Good luck!
An important theme that our leadership team and our teachers will be striving to put into action from the very start of this school year is the concept of ‘connecting before correcting’. Prior to going into the summer holidays in June, our entire elementary faculty team at Gardens Elementary School, completed two days of training in Positive Discipline. This is a training program that is aimed at helping parents and teachers discover positive solutions and teaching strategies that help to build respect at home and in the classroom.
One of the most important underpinnings of this training is to always ‘connect before correct’ and in doing so we not only strengthen the bonds of trust, we also create much deeper levels of significance and belonging in our schools. Seems like such a no brainer that creating the conditions for human connection to flourish in our classrooms should be a top priority. Why is it then that we sometimes have so much difficulty investing the necessary time and energy into making this happen with more consistency in our schools?
As love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace, there is no greater time than the present moment to devote ourselves to this cause.
What might we need to let go of in order to place belonging and significance at the top of our priority list as we start the school year? How do the conversations that we have need to change in order to ensure all members of staff genuinely understand the importance of creating a greater sense of belonging and significance with their students? What is the role of leadership in helping to prioritize this pursuit?
As mental health issues have been steadily increasing among both young people and adults every single year over the past decade (and projected to rise dramatically each year into the future), it is the dire responsibility of every school to create curriculums that embed social and emotional learning as part of the fabric of who they are and what they do. However, it’s the ‘how’ behind how they get this done that needs to be a part of the ongoing conversations happening in their schools on a daily basis.
As well, it is an important reminder that creating a greater sense of belonging and significance does not only apply to our students. Our teachers must also feel that they matter and that their own levels of mental, social and emotional well-being play an equally significant role in the workplace.
When planning for great teaching and learning, there is no question that student achievement data in literacy, math, and other areas of the curriculum are a critical part of the conversations that need to take place during meetings. However, in what ways are we building time into these meetings to address the social and emotional needs of our teachers? How do we need to better structure our meetings to allow time for teachers to unpack where they are at, what they are struggling with and what they might need in order for them to be at their best both personally and professionally? If our teachers are not in a great place mentally, socially, and/or emotionally, how can they possibly be there to the extent that their students need them to be.
This blog post is an important reminder about the need to create more authentic conversations in our schools about how we all play a critical role in building a greater sense of belonging and significance in order to allow all stakeholders to thrive. Consider how the 6 questions below might help to spark more meaningful discussions about strengthening the bonds of trust and deepening levels of belonging and significance in our schools?
What commitments will your leadership team make to prioritize social, emotional and mental well-being within your school?
How much time will be devoted to having authentic conversations about social, emotional and mental well-being in your school?
How will social, emotional, and mental well-being be unpacked and co-constructed with both teaching faculty and students in your school?
How will leaders and teachers hold each other accountable for ‘connecting before correcting’ in your school?
How are we building psychological safety in a way that allows all voices to genuinely be heard in our schools?
What role will mindfulness play in helping to promote a greater sense of belonging and significance in your school?
You can download a PDF of the visual with the 6 questions for your own use. Thanks for reading and let us know how things go.
Earlier this week, the city of Hiroshima, Japan held the Peace Memorial Ceremony to console the spirits of those killed in the world’s first atomic bomb attack 74 years earlier on August 6th, 1945. It was a beautiful, sunny morning when the American B29 bomber, The Enola Gay, dropped the bomb at exactly 8:15am on that morning which directly resulted in the deaths of approximately 80000 people who were going about their normal lives when this tragedy struck. Another 60000 died from illnesses linked to radiation exposure over the next several years.
Although the anniversary of the attack brings a certain sense of somberness to this city and its people, the day itself is also devoted to sharing the importance of world peace.
Each year, on the evening of August 6th, the city holds the "Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony” which is a beautiful event that anyone is welcome to attend. Thousands of people write personal messages and appeals for peace on colorful lanterns, which are then set afloat down the Motoyasu River, where they pass directly in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. Praying for lasting peace is the focus of this evening.
Having lived in Hiroshima, Japan for nearly ten years, my wife, Neila Steele and I, were able to attend this ceremony a couple of times between the years of 1997-2007 when we had lived there.
The beautiful city of Hiroshima remains a very special place to us. We developed strong friendships with many of the Japanese people and ex-pats that we had connected with over the years while living there. As well, both of our boys were born in the city that still feels like a second home for us. One of our close Canadian friends, Scott Mckeeman, still lives and works in Hiroshima today. Scott is the godfather of our oldest son Eli.
As I reflect on our time in Hiroshima, I’m always drawn back to the city’s journey of understanding and identifying what peace means to them. The city has taken ownership and autonomy over this journey in a way that has placed peace at the very core of what it represents.
Although Hiroshima’s efforts are devoted to raising international awareness about the importance of nuclear disarmament, it is a deeper sense of peace that they envision not only for the citizens of their own city and country, but also for the people of the world. As you walk the streets of Hiroshima, you can feel the strong undercurrent of peace that prevails.
Despite the fact that the normal person might have very little influence on improving levels of world peace, on a micro-level, every single person does have control over how they choose to interpret and perceive peace within their own lives.
In her best-selling book, Practicing Peace, the author Pema Chodron, asks her readers a very important question to reflect on:
“Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war today?”
Peace can be so easily disrupted in our lives in lots of different ways. Perhaps this disruption of peace is caused by our own internally activated voice that might be trying to create chaos, fear or worry within. At other times, it might be our knee-jerk reaction to daily annoyances and frustrations that result in us reacting aggressively and defensively toward others. Whatever the cause of our disharmony is, we can do something about it.
Some questions we might consider exploring are:
How might we more readily practice peace in our own lives?
How can we strive to be more peaceful and self-compassionate with ourselves?
How might we lower our own levels of defensiveness when interacting with others in more stressful situations?
Peace in our own lives can be greatly impacted by the mindset and attitude we carry with us throughout each day. The practice of mindfulness allows us to be more present with our thoughts in a non-judging way. In bringing more concentrated levels of attention, focus, and self-awareness to our daily lives, we can begin to see certain patterns of behavior and response.
The act of noticing comes from being more present. Simply paying closer attention to how we emotionally respond to our own negative self-talk or how we respond to others in stressful situations is a great starting point. Rather than subconsciously going into autopilot mode, we can consciously choose to bring greater levels of self awareness into our daily lives by more deeply observing our own thoughts, actions, and emotional responses.
Take the next few days to think about what peace with yourself and with others means to you in your own life. Take a moment to find a quiet place to just sit with your own thoughts about peace and how you might be able to bring more of it to your life. With peace comes more happiness and a greater sense of well-being.
If you had to set a more peaceful intention in your own life, what would your message to yourself be. What message would you write to yourself on your own colored lantern to set afloat?
Thanks for reading.
“Conscious thoughts, repeated often enough, become unconscious thinking.”
We’ve all been there before. Moments when we get caught up in troubling thoughts and/or emotions connected with a past experience that didn’t go well for us. Perhaps it was a colleague, family member, or friend who may have annoyed, frustrated, or angered us. Or it might have been something that happened in a meeting or a confrontation we might have had with someone close to us. Whatever the negative event or interaction was that we had experienced, it can be quite easy, as humans, to re-live these moments in our mind which can cause us to re-experience the same negative emotions connected to that particular event or interaction.
“If only I would’ve given them a piece of my mind and told them what I really thought.”
“I should’ve stood up for myself and reminded them that they’re the ones that keep screwing up not me.”
“If only I wouldn’t have been so nervous when speaking in front of the group, I would’ve been able to communicate my message so much more confidently.”
“The next time he/she says that to me again, I’m going let them have it straight back.”
“Why does that person always think that I’m incapable of doing things for myself”
Re-living the past can be commonplace for many people as they can be quite harsh on themselves and find themselves re-experiencing negative emotions and feelings with regularity.
Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist and best-selling author, states in his book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that there is such a strong connection between our bodies and our brains and that the mere thought of negative events or experiences from the past can trigger neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in our brains to send messages to our bodies. This immediately causes specific hormones to be released that spark the negative emotions we find ourselves consumed by or even trapped by. These negative emotions can range from very mild to quite harsh and even damaging if repeated on a consistent basis in our lives.
Of course, it is human nature to experience negative emotions. However, through greater self-awareness, we can become more cognizant of habitual thinking and feeling loops in our lives that do not serve us well and hold us back from being a better version of ourselves.
The thinking and feeling loop is very real and presents itself to us multiple times a day. Below the surface, there are some very strong and intense chemical reactions taking place that are directly responsible for producing the thoughts and feelings that we experience on a daily basis. When these thinking and feeling loops are rooted in positive emotions, we can experience intense feelings or joy and contentment. However, when we continually allow ourselves to re-live negative moments from the past, it can cause a downward spiraling of emotions and feelings that push us into a very negative state of being.
Mindfulness is a great way to be present and to draw attention to the habitual thought patterns that we find ourselves potentially repeating with regularity in our lives. In an effort to better understand these repetitive thinking and feeling loops, we can put ourselves in a much better position to deal with negative emotions and feelings in more proactive ways by putting mindfulness into action.
A strategy that Andy Puddicome, the co-founder of the mindfulness app called Headspace, promotes through some of the meditations he teaches is a labelling strategy. This strategy is aimed at drawing awareness to the negative thinking and feeling loops that we experience that may be troubling to us.
The purpose of the labelling strategy is to disrupt this type of thinking by ensuring that we do not let these thoughts and feelings determine our identity and become who we are.
Puddicome asks his listeners, as they sit in a meditative state, to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go. Many people, as they meditate, try to cut off these feelings and work endlessly to ignore them or push them away. It can be a constant battle in our minds as we try to deflect or cut off these negative emotions and feelings.
Instead, we are meant to just sit with them and notice them, but rather than saying, “I’m angry” or “I’m frustrated” or “I’m worthless”, we simply flip these statement to being a label.
We can do so by saying things such as, “Oh, that’s anger” or “That’s frustration” or “That’s doubt”. In creating these labels, it depersonalizes these negative emotions and feelings. We notice these emotions and feelings, we label them, and let them pass. These thoughts and feelings do not define us or our identity.
Rather than cutting off these negative thinking and feeling loops, we can raise are own levels of self-awareness in order to disrupt them. When we do this over time, we can lessen the neurological impact that they have on us thus decreasing the intensity of these emotions.
Once we practice raising our levels of self-awareness through the labelling strategy described above, we put ourselves in a position to be immediately catch ourselves when we are re-creating or re-living negative thoughts and emotions that we have experienced in the past. We begin to understand that we do not want these past emotions dictating our future. We place little value on these emotions and develop the ability to reframe and restructure how we want to feel, think, and act in order to experience more fulfillment and joy in our lives.
As you reflect on your past week, what negative thinking and feeling loops might you be experiencing? What kinds of feelings and emotions are being generated as a result of these negative loops? How are these negative loops impacting your state of being or mood?
I encourage you to sit in total silence for 10 minutes and put on a timer.
As you sit in silence, notice and observe any negative thoughts or feelings.
Let these thoughts and feelings simply float around within your mental space without judgement.
Do not try to fight them off, cut them off, or deflect them.
Simply attach a label to them and what they represent instead of diving into the reasons for these thoughts and feelings. (Ahh, that’s anger or that’s frustration)
Breath and repeat as many times as needed in that ten minutes.
If you get distracted return to the breath and let your thoughts come and go.
It takes a lot of practice, but you can get better and better at it. Once you are done the ten minutes, if you want to take it to the next level, journal about the experience. It always helps to put it down on paper.
Hope you try this out. Thanks for reading.
"Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!...
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."
I sought counsel in a good friend this week letting him know that I’ve had some difficulties over the past few months. Not feeling myself so much, struggling with my own personal and professional purpose, lacking motivation and inspiration, and generally feeling quite down, I knew the time had come for me to take action.
I’ve been working hard to reframe the story that I have created for myself the past few months because it hasn’t served me well.
My friend opened up about some of his experiences with feeling the same way at times and that a constant go to that he holds close to his heart is a story about Buddha. He learned the story from Tara Brach and her inspiring book called Radical Acceptance. In the story, Buddha is constantly trying to be attacked by the Demon God Mara. Mara always sets out to hurt Buddha and makes regular appearances in his life by trying to cast fear, doubt, insecurity, hurt, hopelessness, shame and guilt toward Buddha.
This story is really a metaphor for the troubling emotions and fear that lives in each human heart. Rather than ignoring these negative emotions, Buddha chose to deal with them by inviting the Demon God Mara to join him for a cup of tea whenever the Demon God decided to make an appearance in Buddha’s life.
Buddha would make Mara an honorary guest and offer a cushion so that the Demon God could sit comfortably as they had tea. Buddha would sit with the negative emotions that Mara was trying to project on to him, but do so in a non-judging and undisturbed way.
By accepting these experiences with a warmth of compassion, Buddha chose not to try to fearfully drive Mara away. This made it much easier for Buddha to deal with these troubling emotions and fear in positive ways and understand that it is deeply part of the human psyche to experience fear and other negative emotions.
In our own lives, what’s most important to think about is how we deal with these emotions. In accepting these emotions and fear, we can actually create a more empowering personal narrative for ourselves that helps to better serve us now and in the future.
While meditating, we can invite our own form of Mara to tea with us. We can sit with these troubling emotions and fear that we experience in a non-judging way rather than ignore these emotions or try to drive them away.
Speaking to my friend this week helped to remind myself that it’s OK to experience darker moments and that when I do, there is definitely something that I can be done about it.
I’ve chosen to invite Mara to tea with me this week through the meditations I am doing. In choosing to look at self-doubt, fear, uncertainty, and frustration differently, it has quickly helped me to get back on track with my work and to feel a greater sense of fulfillment and kindness toward myself. The act of self-compassion can be one of the greatest things that we can gift to ourselves.
What troubling emotions might you be experiencing this week? What fears might unknowingly be present in your life that may be impacting the personal narrative you have been creating for yourself? How might you better sit with these troubling emotions and fear in a way that empowers you to be a better version of yourself?
Hope this blog post helps to give you some ideas to mindfully put into practice in your own life. Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily