E 15: Bomb-Diffusal, A North Pole Exploration, and One War Hero’s Courageous Heart: Learning How To Teach Kids with Trauma and PTSD (with Bruno Guevremont)

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With Remembrance Day just around the corner, it’s so important to take a moment and hear the stories of our brave service-people and that we reach out to support them in any way we can.

Ever wonder what an ex-bomb-disposal war vet and paratrooper could teach you about being a better educator? You’re in for a real treat! I’d like to wager that after this conversation, you’ll see your students in a whole new light. In this episode we explore a number of important topics including challenging your assumptions about people, ways to challenge yourself, how nature and contribution can make you happier, and the a 140k multiple day hike across the North Pole helped this war vet overcome the devastating PTSD symptoms of trauma.

“I SPENT 15 YEARS WITH THE ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY, serving two tours in Afghanistan. I was trained as a Weapons Specialist, Paratrooper, Navy Diver, and spent a good portion of my military career as a member of a Canadian Counter Improvised Explosive Disposal Team.
I am also the only member of the Canadian Forces to ever dismantle an explosive vest off a live suicide bomber.
After returning home from my second tour in Afghanistan, I couldn’t function like a normal member of society. I was on high alert at all times, uncomfortable around others, and spiraling in the depths of my own mind.

I remember staring at my nightstand, and wishing there was a handgun inside to stop the pain. And then I’d get out of bed, get dressed and head out. This is how I started my day. I’d drive to the base and dream of crashing my car into the big rock face that I passed on the way. There were car crash casualties there all the time, so nobody would know I did it on purpose. My family would get the insurance money and this constant pain would end.

Around this same time, I was diagnosed with PTSD and medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces. I could’ve believed I was broken and gave up right there, but then I would think of my little guy growing up without a dad.
THANK GOD FOR MY LITTLE GUY.
IF IT WEREN’T FOR HIM, I WOULDN’T BE HERE TODAY HELPING OTHERS.I WENT ON A QUEST, A ONE MAN MISSION TO FIND A CURE.

This shit wasn’t about me anymore. It was all for my little guy. I forced myself to find ways to recover. But the first step was taking responsibility and accepting that I signed up for this. I was a warrior.

I dropped my ego and asked for help.
I chased my passions and opened my own gym.
I completed an expedition in the North Pole.
I led Team Canada in the Invictus Games.
I summited Mount Kilimanjaro.
I stepped back into the roles I was meant for – survivor, warrior, leader.

I became a voice for my brothers and sisters who serve.Today, I’m building a community, bringing those who serve together to conquer PTSD. I’m also fortunate to be able to help thousands of people transform their lives and businesses – from CEOs and influencers to athletes and celebrities (not to mention, some of the biggest veterans and charity organizations in Canada).

WHETHER YOU ARE A SERVICE MEMBER LOOKING TO RECLAIM YOUR WARRIOR SPIRIT, OR A BUSINESS LOOKING TO BOOST PERFORMANCE, FEEL FREE TO REACH OUT.”

For more information visit my podcast and search for episode #15.

https://www.brunoguevremont.com/
Facebook – @brunoguevremont
Linkedin – Bruno Guevremont
Twitter – @Be_Redemption
Instagram – @Bruno_Guevremont

https://www.brunoguevremont.com/

The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

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The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

Five years ago at the end of each school-year in the busy month of June, I started the practice of writing a letter to myself.  Like a ritual, I would seal the letter and place it in the left-hand drawer of my desk on the last day of school.  At the end of September, during the beginning of the following school year, a time when the lighthearted novelty of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp and clean notebooks, and excitement to ignite passion in the hearts of our students seems to melt like a brightly-coloured rainbow popsicle on a hot sunny day into thick greyish soup of overwhelm, lack of sleep, and a thorough sense of imposter syndrome, I would allow myself to pry open the letter. I would read each word slowly, with intention, allowing the message to sink into my skeptical spirit… reminding it that, yes, these students would get to where they needed to go. I just had to meet them where they were.

Patience. Time. Faith.

That was all I needed to keep in my mind over the coming months in order to stay afloat.

Throughout most of my career, I have had the pleasure of teaching Grade One, one of the most incredibly rewarding age-groups to teach because of the nature of exponential, near-explosive growth and learning that occurs in such a short period of time.

Like little jumping jellybeans, pint-size bodies file into the classroom in September,

eyes and hearts wide-open to the possibility of learning,

passionate about their beliefs,

sure-footed about their perspectives of the world,

filled with a desire be their authentic selves,

some students filled with trepidation,

others eager to show off their strengths,

certain children combative and oppositional,

other kids quiet and observing,

most are not yet able to

read,

write,

or do math.

There’s truly nothing like it!

It’s exhilarating.

It’s also incredibly exhausting.

But most of all, teaching Grade One (or any grade) can seem insurmountable in September.

The magic of the learning and deep growth that occurs within the soul of each child seems impossible to the rational teacher’s mind at the beginning of the year.

And so, the letter served to remind my “September-Self” that according to my “June-Self”…it would all work out.

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, the beginning of the year can seem tough. Why not take a moment now, in June, to reflect on how far your students have come, you have come together on your journey?

I urge you to jot it down on paper, pop it into an envelope and open that gift of insight and wisdom in September. It’ll alleviate some stress and create a sense of certainty for the future.

I guarantee, it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

 

What is School For?

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What is school for?

In our current world filled with uncertainty, ubiquitous inundation of technology, and perceived political turmoil, many of us are feeling more and more disconnected from the very thing that has been scientifically proven to determine our overall sense of happiness: our connection to one another. Anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide rates continue to rise within our student populations across North America. On both macro and micro levels, it feels as though our country, many schools, teachers, parents, and students are all in crisis.FullSizeRender 10
As author, speaker, and marketing guru Seth Godin asserts, our contemporary industrial model of education has proven itself ineffective for preparing students for the uncertain future. Many of the jobs we once took for granted are being automated, and the advent of artificial intelligence underscores this point as we enter the futuristic age. So, it becomes more and more important for educators, parents, and educational leaders to ask themselves: What is school for?

I believe it all comes down to teaching two main skills: authentic kindness and resilience.

hearthandsWe need to prepare students with the prosocial (Social Emotional Learning) skills they require to connect to those around them, to tune into the needs of their real-time peers, and to use their understanding, compassion, kindness, to solve interesting problems that machines can’t. It’s about explicitly and carefully crafting classroom cultures of authentic belonging.

It is also imperative that we teach students to be resilient, challenge themselves, to withstand and grow (bounce forward) from adversity, and to see apparent failures as the answer to becoming successful. These are the skills it takes to make it in the Real World. Kids need to learn how to get comfortable with ‘failure.’

IMG_4271In the not-so-distant future, success will be in the hands of the imaginative entrepreneur who recognizes that it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to be vulnerable despite your seeming imperfection, and that it’s ok to be a work in progress. According to Warton School of Business Professor Dr. Adam Grant, most of young people, employers, and teachers appreciate that we need to be working more on developing life skills such as, confidence/motivation to tackle problems, interpersonal skills to work with others, and the resilience to stay on task when things fall apart, rather than primarily focusing on academic qualifications.

We all want this outcome, but how do we get there?

Many organizations and individuals in our schools and communities are working diligently, joyfully, and creatively not only to prepare teachers, students and their families for the future ahead, but to foster supportive community environments in which people feel seen and heard. Certain individuals work covertly and quietly within their classrooms, offices, and institutions, while others do so more publicly. Ultimately, however you seek to serve people, you’re a benefit and you’re adding value.

The 1Up Single Family Resource Centre in Victoria, for example, works hard to support single parents through parenting courses, education, mentorship, support for mental health and addiction, and I’ve seen their powerful work firsthand.

Lisa Baylis, Greater Victoria School District high-school counsellor and founder of AWEsome Wellbeing Educator Retreat, “offers workshops that bring tools and strategies to parents and educators to help them create wellness habits for themselves first, and then their families and classrooms second, subsequently creating a culture of resiliency, self-regulation and awareness.” Her work, which has been recognized in a number of important business and educational publications, contributes directly to cultivating kind, supportive cultures in schools.

inquiry_mindset_clearAuthors Trevor Mackenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt’s recent work in their amazon best-selling collaborative book Inquiry Mindset, provides an inspiring and actionable roadmap for teachers to adapt the concept of growth mindset, autonomy, personalized learning, and inquiry-based learning within any K-12 classroom. They encourage teachers to celebrate the process of learning, by showcasing the ‘messiness’ of growth through a variety of methods, to value a provoked sense of curiosity, and to enable students to allow themselves to be vulnerable knowing that everyone experiences challenges and perceived failures when trying to solve interesting problems.

The Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Kindness Challenge serves to promote and cultivate safe and supportive cultures, through which students, leaders, and teaching staff can gain a profound sense of belonging and significance.Neuroscientists have proven that when we receive kind acts, oxytocin (the belonging/love hormone) is released making us feel more connected to those around us. What’s surprising is that oxytocin is also released when the giver performs a kind deed and even when someone witnesses a nice gesture! So, through kindness, we can literally change our immediate work and school cultures, one act at a time. Let’s make it a habit.IMG_4273

The thing is, we can all contribute to kind and resilient cultures through our actions, whether we do so publicly or through the small things we do daily. Through those actions, who knows how far the ripples will spread and who we will inspire. We all stand to benefit from a stronger sense of connection to one another, right?

Together, let’s make a big impact, one small act at a time.

 

cropped-img_86602.png If you’re a teacher, keep your eyes peeled in September 2018 for Pro-D workshops designed to provide teachers with a roadmap for implementing the theories of the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge through hands-on research-based, actionable tips and lessons to be used within the classroom, community, and at the leadership level. Drop me a line, comment or email me to let me know if you’d be interested in booking a 1/2 day session at your school or for a conference. smallactbigimpact21days@gmail.com

 

The 80/20 Principle As it Relates to Your Happiness

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The 80/20 Principle as it Relates to Your Happiness

Ok, so I just recently came across something that has useful and transformative applications to just about every single facet of anybody’s life. In fact, it’s such a simple, effective concept that it blows my mind that I hadn’t encountered it until this year, so I am dying to share it with you, too. In a nutshell, it’s an unassuming framework approach that can completely shift the way one makes decisions, runs a business or designs one’s existence. Literally, I believe it can change your life, making you happier, more intentional with your time, and more efficient.

So, let’s dive into it.

Initially discovered and developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906, the Pareto 80/20 Principle (aka the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) was used to explain the wealth distribution among the Italian population. It stated that roughly 80% of the income in Italy was received by 20% of the population.

OK…that’s fine, but who really cares?

How does this apply to you?

Here’s where it gets interesting.

This principle has been used on macro and micro scales in a variety of fields with the purpose of increasing happiness, mindfulness, success, time efficacy, and overall ability to follow-through on the intentions one sets. Once one understands that the principle permeates just about everything, it can be used to measure your achievements and correct your course if you’re not feeling connected to what you’re doing.

Here are some examples that illustrate how the 80/20 principlemight relate to you (obviously, the ratios might be skewed slightly depending on the situation, but most can agree that there’s a pattern of a minority creating a majority):

Business:

  • 20 percent of employees are responsible for 80 percent of a company’s output
  • 20 percent of customers are responsible for 80 percent of the revenues /sales
  • 20 percent of product defects cause 80 percent of problems
  • 80 percent of complaints come from 20 percent of your customers
  • 20 percent of portfolio investments are responsible for 80 percent of growth/losses

Personal Habits:

  • 20 percent of the things you do result in 80 percent of happiness
  • 20 percent of my spending contributes to 80 percent of my fulfilment
  • 20 percent of your friends are responsible for 80 percent of your happiness
  • 20 percent of the people in your life are responsible for 80 percent of your unhappiness
  • 80 percent of value is a cause of the first 20 percent of your efforts
  • 20 percent of the photos you take are responsible for 80 percent of your overall photo-taking satisfaction
  • 20 percent of my wardrobe is worn 80 percent of the time
  • 80 percent of my phone time is wasted on 20 percent of your apps
  • 20 percent of US population uses 80 percent of healthcare
  • 20 percent of the world suffers 80 percent of serious hardships (good to remember)
  • 20 percent of food you eat 80 percent of the time

Work:

  • 20 percent of your work make up for 80 percent of your output
  • 80 percent of the work might be completed by 20 percent of the workers
  • 20 percent of tech problems contribute to 80 of time spent trying to solve them
  • 80 percent of customers only use 20 percent of tech products available to them
  • 20 percent of my tasks bring 80 percent of my success

School:

  • 20 percent of students are responsible for 80 percent of contribution at carpet time
  • 20 percent of students are responsible for 80 percent of the work within groups
  • 20 percent of students take up 80 percent of your time
  • 20 percent of parent population contribute to 80 percent of parent interactions
  • 20 percent of school day is dedicated to 80 percent of minds-on, hands-on learning work (I’m sure this depends)
  • 20 percent of our high-frequency words account for 80 percent of language used (oral and text)

 So, how do I use the 80/20 Principle to improve my life?

 Over the last year or so, I’ve used the principle to help me reach conclusions or advise others on their decisions.

For example, a close friend of mine was having a difficult time navigating a difficult interaction with her friend. They just couldn’t seem to agree on the value-based issue, which seemed to come up again and again whenever they would visit. It had been years and it became clear to me that the only reason my friend was maintaining the relationship was out of an arbitrary obligation.

Sometimes, 20 percent of our “friendships” cause us 80 percent of our grief and unhappiness. Maybe it’s more valuable to dedicate 80 percent of our time to the 20 percent of people who add the most value to our lives. Time is finite. We are under no obligation to surround ourselves with people who drain our energy, put us down, or reduce our overall happiness. As Jim Rohn once said, we are an average of the five people with whom we surround ourselves.

Sometimes, we have to fire our “friends” to become happier and live the lives we want.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

  1. Which 20 % of activities and people in my life are responsible for 80 % of my challenges or frustrations?

  2. Which 20 % of activities, people, work, passions are resulting in 80 % of my fulfilment?

  3. Which 20 % of my things bring me 80 % of my joy?

  4. Which 20 % of food do I eat 80 % of the time?

After you answer those questions, it’s easy enough to search for patterns and analyze the following in order to intentionally live the life that brings you the most fulfilment and happiness:

  • What do I need to be doing more of?

  • What do I need to be doing less of?

  • With whom do I need to be spending more/less time?

  • What do I need to be eating less/more of?

 

Sources:

Tim Ferriss Four Hour Work Week

Wikipedia

Mark Mansen

 

 

Tim Ferriss’ Fear-Setting Strategy: How to Make a Decision when Fear is Holding you Back

IMG_3984Have you ever found yourself faced with a decision that feels not only overwhelming, but crippling?

We all have defining moments in our lives that force us to reconsider the status quo. Sometimes, what stops us from making the right (but HARD) decisions is the fear that we’ll fall flat on our faces and, ultimately, that we won’t be able to recover from the failure. Fear stops us dead in our tracks. So, we retreat from the edge of uncertainty and choose comfort over courage.

The amygdala (reptilian brain) takes over like an overprotective big brother, signals that your livelihood is being threatened, and shuts everything down. You begin rationalizing your inaction. After all, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right?

What if you had a framework for examining your decision through a different lens? What if you could circle-back to the big brother and question his assumptions upon which he based the need to protect you? What if through examining the decision with precision, you could override the fear, altogether? What if you could choose the difficult path and live to tell the tale?

You’ve likely heard of goal-setting, but maybe you’re new to the concept of fear-setting. One of my favourite podcast hosts, Tim Ferriss, describes the process in his Ted Talk. Sometimes, when you’re faced with that jump of the cliff moment of a big decision, fear-setting can be the answer you need to bring clarity to a situation, allow you to make a decision without second-guessing it, and to ultimately, choose courage over comfort.

The framework recently helped me to make a big career decision that, initially, had me shaking in my boots. Once I examined my fears head-on, I was able to make the decision without doubting myself.

So, if you’re faced with a big, bad decision related to any aspect of your life, try it out sometime.

You’ll need three pages in a journal or on your computer:

Page One Define and name the Fear: What if I ____? 

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Create three columns

1. Define Fear: What is holding you back?

  • Make a list of the worst things imaginable associated with the choice (10-20 things)

2. Prevent: What are the preventative steps one could take to avoid the worst things imaginable?

  • List them all!

3. Repair: If the worst case happens, how do I come back from it?

At the bottom of the page, reflect on the following: Has anyone less intelligent/less driven figured this out? Chances are that they have, and so can you!

Page two: What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?

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This helps you to create a framework through which even partial success relates to a win. Often this comes down to an increase in:

  • Confidence
  • Money
  • Time
  • Connection with those you love
  • Creating boundaries
  • Growing your business
  • Growing your family
  • Opportunities
  • Meeting people
  • Practice for the big projects

Page three: What are the costs of inaction, emotionally, physically, and financially?

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Inaction can be a regret-maker. It’s likely that envisioning the costs associated with inaction will be the magic sauce that tips you over the edge, that enables you to stand behind that hard decision, that allows you to invite the fear.

Break down the costs using the following time-increments:

  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • 3 years
  • 10 years

Next, ask yourself: What is the cost of the status quo? What might my life look like in:

  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • 3 years
  • 10 years

I hope you found this framework useful. I always love to hear from my readers, so feel free to message or email me:)

Bottom line, easy choices usually result in a hard life. If you’re able to front-end load your life with hard choices, I believe it’ll lead you to an easier, more fulfilled life. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rebrand

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The Rebrand

Just recently, I experienced a setback that will change what was and force me to adapt. Nothing permanent or terrible, but a setback, nonetheless.

The thing is, we are all faced with daily obstacles, whether they are significant, life-altering or seemingly minor.

How we react to setbacks, reveals our character.

In the past, I haven’t always responded favourably to the challenge of a curveball. I’m a girl who loves certainty, after all. Unexpected challenges can be tricky for a lot of people, myself included.

After the disbelief and shock of a setback have worn off, reality sets in. Like a cat clinging to a door frame to avoid taking a bath, I will pretty much do whatever I can to elude the repercussions and discomfort of a setback. Sure enough, I soon felt myself slipping into old habits.

Here are my favourite 4 ways to avoid difficult realities:

  1. I will manufacture certainty by over-organizing everything in my life. My friends have nick-named me the M-organizer…because it’s what I do. It’s my favourite coping mechanism. As I write this, I realize that I am SO guilty of doing this! I actually chose this week to take on the KonMarie Method for organizing your home and, against best-Kon-Marie-practice, delved right into the most challenging and exhausting section: paper. Super.
  2. I lament what might have been and live there far too long. Yup! Mentally, I found myself checking off all of the things that I’d be losing out on or missing as a result, despite my better judgement. Terrific.
  3. I catastrophize the future and wallow there for a bit. My brain starts doing overtime and over-projecting the new reality. Very helpful.
  4. Then…enter resentfulness. Instead of leading with compassion, empathy, kindness, and love (as I aim to show up most of the time), my deficiency-perspective allows fear and resentfulness to creep into my interactions. UGH!

 So, as you might have guessed, this 4-step-approach doesn’t work out so well. Not only do I usually wind up feeling lousy, but so do the people around me, through association.

Consequently, this week, acknowledging my tendency for certainty-seeking and manufacturing, I found myself searching for a different tactic. I talked to some people, did some journaling, and meditated on it for a bit. I was reminded of something Dr. Maya Angelou once said: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

What I wanted was to change my attitude. How on Earth does one convincingly, authentically shift one’s perspective? The willingness to change one’s approach and outlook is important, but it takes more than simply telling yourself to change to do so with authenticity.

That’s when it struck me. Perhaps, it might be more helpful to think of it as a rebrand. It’s about telling yourself a different story. It’s about teasing out and focusing on the positives associated with a change in situation versus dwelling on the losses. Rebranding doesn’t usually alter the product for sale, it changes the story about it so that it becomes more desirable. A shift in perspective that tells a different story…that’s what I needed.  Not one of loss, grief and resentful resistance, but one of strength, courage, and willful benevolence.

And so, I have begun to craft a new story. How about you?

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Way to Happy Through Flow

7585962832_IMG_2415We are afraid

The thing is, most of us are afraid.

Afraid to put ourselves ‘out there.’

Afraid to make the invite.

Afraid to fail. Afraid to succeed.

Afraid not to be liked. Afraid to love.

Afraid to say, ‘yes.’ Afraid to say, ‘no.’

Afraid to show our hearts. Afraid to see ourselves in others.

Afraid to take the leap. Afraid to sit still.

Afraid to be different. Afraid to be normal.

Afraid to be boring. Afraid to stand out.

The Box

So, we nestle ourselves comfortably within the confines of the bell curve.

We strive for ‘acceptably normal.’ We strive to ‘fit in.’

So that we’ll belong. So that we’ll be loved.

But the problem is that the more we strive to fit into the curve, the more apathetic we become, the more bored we find ourselves, the more anxiety we develop,

and the less energy and dedication we spend on what truly matters.

The more we strive to belong to something external, the less we tune into ourselves and what brings our souls to life.

And what more is there? What are we waiting for?

Permission?

A roadmap?

Someone else to do it first?

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You are your best thing.

This moment you’re living right now is life.

If not now, when?

Too often, we conform to the vision of what we should be, instead of focusing on what fills us with joy, meaning, and purpose in our lives.

We deny ourselves the delight of play, creation, and curious exploration, trading authentic expression for certainty.

What if we pressed pause on fear, just for long enough to see it for what it is? To examine thoughtfully how it holds us back? What if we thanked it, as author Elizabeth Gilbert does when she begins any new creative project, and explained patiently that for this endeavour, its services aren’t required.

What if instead of pursuing success according to someone else’s definition and consistently measuring ours in relation to theirs, we redefined it for ourselves?

What if our focus shifted to finding deep fulfilment through the expression of our truest selves?

Now, for the million dollar question…

HOW?

How can I become more fulfilled and happy?

Mihaly Csiksentmihaly is a positive psychologist, speaker, and author has made it his life’s work to find out what makes people happy and deeply fulfilled. In his 2004 TED talk, Flow, The Secret to Happiness, he asserts the research-based conclusion that material goods do not ensure happiness, and that true happiness is found when one is in flow.

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In order to measure flow, Csiksentmihaly measured people’s moods in relation to subjective perception of their own skills and perceived challenge-level of a task. Individuals were asked to identify their emotions/task/whereabouts 10 separate times per day for a set period of time. Each individual had their own set point (or baseline for emotion/skill/challenge level). He identified that flow occurs when people feel highly challenged, while simultaneously believing that they have the skills to succeed in completing the challenging task. Boredom and apathy were the two emotions that were most detrimental to creating a state of flow. It’s very similar to Vygotsky’s learning theory of the Zone of Proximal Development.

 

So, how do you find your flow? How do you even know when you’re close?

Here are the 7 signs that you’re in flow: (paraphrased from TED2004):

  1. Complete focus and concentration on a task
  2. A sense of being outside of yourself, the world, and the everyday
  3. Clarity-you know where to go intuitively
  4. You know that even through an activity is difficult, your skills are adequate enough to complete the task (difficult but possible)
  5. A sense of serenity and growth, unencumbered by the ego
  6. Time disappears
  7. Intrinsic motivation-the activity itself is the reward

We all have that thing that puts us into flow. Flow is our soul’s connection to purpose and meaning. Flow is play.

Think of the child who weaves in and out of flow so effortlessly, without the promise of an end-product.

Flow is that perfect balance when challenges are higher than average, but so is the skill set. It’s where you feel the joy of innovation and creation, while experiencing deep connection to the world and your place in it.

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Maybe it’s been a while since you experienced it. Perhaps you’ve even convinced yourself that it’s a thing of the past.  Maybe you’re waiting for the perfect moment or a permission slip from the office…

Take the leap. Just for fun. Find and explore the thing that makes you feel alive and connected.

Allow it to dissolve time.

Let it carry you away.

It may not bring you financial wealth, but it will make your soul fuller.

 

 

Just do a little more of that thing.

And maybe when you’re ready, you’ll share it.

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Small Treasures

Overcome by the enormity of change that inevitably arrives with every end-of-year transition at school, I remember gazing at the naked mismatched desks, the barren coatroom, and the dozens of cardboard boxes stacked precariously and filled to the brim with classroom essentials awaiting their new destination, nostalgia tugging at my heartstrings.IMG_2828

As I waited for the entry bell to ring one final time, the early morning sunrays streamed through the exterior door’s small square window, illuminating once-white walls of the classroom, now scuffed and dented, proof that for a whole year this silent space had indeed held and nurtured a group of exuberant, jostling, and lively beings.

It had been unforgettable year. I had spent it teaching and learning from a diverse, challenging, wonderful group of Grade One children, connecting deeply with their families, and creating unbreakable bonds with the dynamic staff and administration of an inner-city school in Victoria.

It had also been an exciting and surreal time, for me, personally. That August, while vacationing in France, I received the surprise of a lifetime when my now-husband ushered me to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, lowered himself onto one knee and proposed. The moment had been nothing short of cinematic. A small crowd cheered and applauded as I accepted his offer, we laughed, cried and embraced. Right then, as if on cue, the great tower had come to life, enveloping us in its dancing, sparkling light. A few months later, we purchased and moved into the home in which we are now raising our family.

We had spent the year carefully balancing the many aspects of our busy, young lives, palpable pre-wedding anticipation and excitement permeating everything.

In this brief moment of solitude, peace and gratitude stood beside me as I peered over the edge of transformation.

Suddenly, the bell rang. I could hear the unmistakable boisterous voices of my students rising to crescendo as they formed a line against the outside wall. Inhaling deeply, I carefully swung the door open and welcomed my eager students inside for their last day of school.

“Mme. Michael! Mme. Michael!”

Julia*, a normally-quiet, compassionate, and patient little girl, excitedly pushed her way through the crowd and bounded toward me with a toothy smile, thin blond pony-tail swaying. I noticed she was clasping a bulky shoebox adorned with stickers and decorated lovingly with paint.

The eldest of four children, Julia was classically responsible, earnest, and always heartbreakingly willing to help others. She was also chronically tardy for school and would often show up wearing the same clothing she had worn for several days in a row.

I recall one particular day after school her exhausted mother had lingered, a baby on her hip and a couple of mischievous toddlers keeping her running in frantic zigzags throughout our conversation. With tears welling in her eyes, she had confided that with a husband frequently deployed on important military missions, despite her best efforts, she found it hard to make it to school on time. The baby was up throughout the night, she struggled with her health, it was hard financially to get a meal on the table, and she often felt overwhelmed by loneliness. Although my 20-something-self wasn’t entirely sure how to help or even respond to this mother’s plea for support and kinship, I grew to understand how Julia seemed years beyond her six-year-old-self.

Ignoring the other children jockeying for their positions on the carpet, impatient to begin their last day, Julia thrust the decorated box into my surprised hands.

“This is for you, Mme. Michael!” she exclaimed with glittering anticipation.

Drawing the box toward me, I hinged it open.

Inside, arranged in a cushion of newsprint carefully folded into the base of the shoebox, were the following treasures, meticulously selected for me, undoubtedly from the shelves of her very own bedroom:

A factory painted bunny with a broken ear,

A bright pink, bouncy ball,

A handmade bracelet made of mismatched letter beads,

And a vending-machine ring

Julia stood before me beaming with pride and excitement.

This sweet little girl, who had nothing to give, had given me the most meaningful and beautiful gift I have ever received.

It took everything I had not to break down.

In that moment, I pulled her close to me, wrapping my arms around her tiny shoulders, tears brimming in my eyes.

Thanking her for thoughtful kindness, I collected myself and turned to the class, ready to start our last day together.

 

 

 

 

 

So, I Threw A Spatula…

Just last week, in a fit of quiet rage and a heightened sense of perceived injustice, I hurled a spatula across my kitchen.

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I cannot convey to you, by the way, how hard that sentence was to admit, write and publish.

Anger’s not cute

Anger is not cute. Rage…even less so. It’s not an emotion many people, women specifically, proudly tout. Lack of control, specifically expressions of anger, seems to run counter to the current culture of mindfulness and increased emotional intelligence.

I admit, I’m not proud of throwing that spatula in fury. However, I choose to share my embarrassing outburst on social media because despite being one of the least favourite emotions, anger is a human one. It’s part of the colourful rainbow of sentiments that contributes to the privilege of being human. No one is exempt or immune. Nor, should we strive to be.

Nevertheless, we rarely see examples of healthy, thriving women in their anger. Somehow, anger doesn’t fall into the parameters of what society believes a woman should exude.

As Soman Chainani, acclaimed author and filmmaker, asserts, “Social media has made it so that we are constantly judging ourselves and others. If we’re not careful, our social media feeds become a torture device, an assault of beauty and perfection designed to make you feel inadequate. It makes you intolerant of other people’s real imperfections, and it makes you start to despise the weight of real life, and invest in shallow, flimsy, two dimensional mirrors of it.”

Our growing understanding of emotional expression has somehow coincided with raised and often unrealistic expectations of how our emotions should manifest themselves, which can result in feelings of shame in moments we don’t present as calm, cool, and controlled. We can even tell ourselves the story that we’re somehow ‘defective.’

A bit of background…

I should mention, for the record, that I didn’t throw the spatula at anyone. I was standing alone in the kitchen, ruminating.

The rage had been fuelled by a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, titled I Regret Having Children. The article reported that an increased number of women across North America were expressing regret for having had children, a fact I vehemently DO NOT personally agree with.

Reading it made me angry for three reasons:

  1. Mental Load: Most mothers these days share a profound first-hand understanding of the day-to-day inner conflicts one experiences when trying to meet insatiable, constant, 24-hour needs of our little people, balance and manage a household, nurture a flourishing relationship, nail it in our ambitious careers, all the while attempting to maintain a stronghold on one’s own identity and wellness. Just look at popular posts like the recent work by cartoonist Emma, You Should Have Asked, which depicts the pressures of ‘mental load’ in a hilarious and all-too-familiar manner. It resonates. However, it doesn’t mean I REGRET the choice to have children. It breaks my heart that for a rising number of women, the only relief comes from wishing they never had children. I HATE that women feel like they need to choose some binary definition and experience of motherhood. And that a surprising number feel like they chose wrong.IMG_2650
  2. I felt set up: After finishing the article, I couldn’t help myself. I continued scrolling down to the comments section, anticipating the onslaught of inevitable traditionalist commentators. Sure enough, comments judging the “regretters” harshly, each one echoing the other, affirmed that our current cultural and family denigration is owed to women forgetting their place. Blaming and shaming women for being selfish in their pursuits. Declaring that they should only find fulfillment by filling their pre-determined roles. Where is the village? The lack of support, the sometimes-lonely nature of parenting, and the expectations of living up to some ideal make it difficult to be a mother. It’s unjust and unfair…and heartbreaking. The underlying cultural viewpoint that this is somehow a mother’s issue is infuriating. Really, this comes down to perpetuated societal injustices. This is everyone’s problem!
  3. A building sense of injustice: So, there I stood, staring at the piled-up dishes taunting me from the sink, the next day’s awaiting lunch Tupperware practically begging to be filled from the messy counter, and imagined the wet laundry impatiently admonishing me for my turtle’s pace…empathy, solidarity, heartbreak mounting. I just couldn’t help myself…

So, I threw the spatula…

We feel we should know better

As soon as it clattered against the squared edges of the basin, the heat of shame quickly replaced the rage. Shocked, I realized that in spite of regular journaling, meditation, gratitude practice, and exercise, I had experienced an uncontrolled, reactionary outburst.

At the time, I thought, I know better! What is wrong with me? What had made me react like that? More importantly, I wanted to know how could I stop it from happening again.

I believe some people turn to mindfulness as an inoculation against uncomfortable human emotions like grief, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and anger. That somehow, there’s a perception that meditation is the answer to ridding us of these feelings.

Our current mindset seems to be that the more we know, the more we should be able to control ourselves. Ironically, I have heard friends mention that mindfulness just doesn’t “work” for them, dejected in their inability to get ahead of their unwanted emotions and the humiliating ways these feelings can sometimes express themselves. Or, some teachers impatiently lament that reflection and meditation in school doesn’t immediately cause tangible changes in behaviour. But, maybe, we’re all missing the point?

What is authentic mindfulness?

Here’s the thing, resisting negative emotions only exaggerates them. Genuine mindfulness comes from acceptance and deep observation. Observing all emotions, accepting their existence, and dropping the expectation that we should somehow be immune to negative feelings. Only through that acceptance, can we alter our, possibly inappropriate, reactions.

Simple concept, challenging to execute

As Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness expert and author asserts, “common sense is not common action.” What he means is that even if we know what to do, actually doing it comes down to more than just our willpower or intellectual knowledge. That’s why experts in the field refer to mindfulness and meditation as a practice. Much like going to the gym, we can’t simply attend for a week and expect to reap it’s benefits for the rest of our lives. It’s an on-going labour of love. We win some, we lose some, and the overall trend keeps us headed in a positive, self-aware direction.

What happened on the brain-level?

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(Pic credit www.greenlightheidi.com)

In order to explain what happened, we need to talk about the two parts of our brain that duel for supremacy.

First, we have the emotional, limbic, reptilian part of the brain (amygdala). When we’re threatened, cortisol and adrenaline (neuro-chemicals) course through our veins throwing this ancient part of our brain into fight, flight or freeze. This reaction can prove tremendously helpful in protecting us from the perils of huge predators; however, it is not of particular use when employed in day-to-day stressors. Cortisol shuts down the body on a fundamental level and is only meant to be present in our bodies for short bursts. The problem is, every single time we get stressed, cortisol is released. The compounding effects of stress on the body has been linked to decreases in effectiveness of the immune system, cardio-vascular functioning, digestion, cellular growth, empathy, and increases in depression and anxiety. It’s toxic stuff!

The other part of the brain, the logical prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational thinking. It takes into account a myriad of factors about a situation, risk-assessing as it goes along, before advising you on how to react.

It’s fair to say that after reading that article, my limbic brain hijacked my rational brain, and consequently, I jumped into fight mode.

And so, I propose, maybe it would be more useful to be calculating success in terms of our Recovery Time, as opposed to some unattainable obliteration of negative thoughts. Recovery time meaning, how quickly are we able to get to a place of authentic, self-forgiving, ego-free reflection after an emotional breakdown?  How long does it take for the rational brain to regain control?

What Now? How do we increase our recovery time after an emotional outburst, anyway?

The key is letting go of the ego-which says that if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Compromise and self-reflection are not the ego’s favourite thing to do. We have to have more patience of ourselves and others in the process, so we can move on and bounce forward. Mindfulness plays a big role in recovery time.

And, a little bit of reflection also goes a long way…

Five things you can do to increase your recovery time:

  1. Your story: Ask yourself, What story am I telling myself right now?
  2. Let it out: Find a way to express your voice through journaling or talking. Sometimes, those big feelings just need validation.
  3. List it up: Create a mental or written list of what’s inside your control and what’s outside of it.
  4. Small Steps: Create a small goal you know you can accomplish. Doing that has a way to building your confidence. The all or nothing mindset serves nothing. Small steps lead to big changes!
  5. Celebrate: Holding yourself to an unrealistic ideal, when it comes to any behavioural change is a recipe for disaster and failure. Celebrate small triumphs!

 

 

 

 

How Empathy Leads the Way for the Transformation from Victimization to Resiliency

IMG_7940Just this morning, I had a realization that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those “Aha” Oprah-moments that sent a jolt of electric energy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s caused a dramatic paradigm shift in the way I look at people-centred pain.

I have spent the last few weeks or so researching for my newest project which will provide tangible support to teachers embarking on the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Kindness Challenge with their classes in the form of grade-specific lessons, activities, and free resources.

I have stolen early morning, caffeine-filled moments at my dining room table sifting through books, articles, videos, websites, and adapting classroom lessons.

Anti-bullying strategies.

Neuroscience.

Peer-reviewed studies.

Opinion pieces in major magazines.

Psychological theories.

All of it has reinforced my belief that teaching generosity and kindness though explicit means within the classroom is essential to creating classroom cultures that promote a sense of belonging and significance for our students.

The research process got me thinking about the concept of understanding those who hurt us. Nothing underscores the universal human experience more than the hurt we have all suffered at the hands of someone else. Painful break-ups. Conflicts at work. Family Feuds. Misunderstandings with friends. Falling outs. Bullying on the school ground. Childhood trauma. We have all experienced varying degrees of very real interactional pain.

The thing is, many people reflexively tend to demonize those who have hurt us. Dehumanization of perpetrators or those who cause us pain somehow makes us feel justified in acting outside of our integrity. We blame. We rage. We might even turn to hate. We might act uncharacteristically. We do so with the intent of protecting ourselves, and ironically, we wind up perpetuating the pain. We can get stuck in the story and the victimization. We might find it challenging to seek understanding, because retribution can be what we ultimately seek. For example, when I think of students in conflict, the “winning” mentality can make it difficult to come to consensus and seek positive solutions. For some students, retribution seems like the only answer.

But…here’s what I realized this morning:

The more we understand bullies and those who hurt us either intentionally or not, the less victimized we become by their actions. When we see the situation or conflict at arm’s length, from a different perspective, I believe the narrative can change. That is what we need to teach students in order to build resiliency in the face of conflict.

And here’s where I have to be very clear. Reframing the narrative by seeking to understand various facets of a hurtful interaction does not mean standing by passively and allowing it to continue!

It’s not about condoning the hurtful actions or statements.

It’s not about blind forgiveness.

And, it’s not about inviting hurtful people back into our lives in the hopes that things “change.”

It’s about preventing the hurt from weaving itself into the narrative that defines us as individuals.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a close family member about the importance of recognizing what motivates people to hurt us and the value in having empathy for them. We discussed that people are fundamentally motivated by a variety of needs and that their actions directly relate to those needs, whether they are conscious of them or not. I believe that when people hurt us, their words and actions are motivated by unmet needs. It’s like they’re in survival mode, finding the easiest, fastest route to strengthening themselves. Ironically, like fast food, hurting people to meet your needs doesn’t fill you up at all. It leaves you emptier, hungrier, and lonelier than ever. I argued that understanding these motivators provides us with a broader, richer context though which to view the hurt. We seek understanding from our empathy as much for our sake as theirs. And, it allows us to view it through a less personal, victimized lens.

Through several defining moments of my life, I have had to set clear boundaries to ensure that I stay true to my integrity and to protect my soul and spirit. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires a great deal of courage, possibly many attempts, and a boatload of help, but it’s possible to rise up against unfair treatment. When we look around us, we see so many examples of individuals banding together courageously to advocate against injustice.

By and large, we are creatures of habit and certainty. When we are thrust into trauma or hurtful conflict, we instinctively go into certainty-seeking mode. Our brains try to make sense of the interaction and search for the best path back to certitude. In the absence of tangible data, our minds generate narratives (whether they are accurate or not) that make sense because we are biologically wired to find patterns.  In his article on the Neuroscience of Story Gert Scholtz asserts, “Stories invoke the mind to fill in gaps and to anticipate future outcomes and as such it provides a safe simulation of reality.” This explains why many people who have been hurt, not only blame others but often blame themselves, consciously or unconsciously. If the pain is bad enough, they may apply this new narrative to redefine the way they interact and react to life’s stressors to avoid being hurt again. As we know, when our backs are against the wall, we fight, flight, or freeze.

Heartbreak and trauma may very likely be part of your biography, but it does not define who you are. We don’t have to own or accept the story our brains have set out for us. I believe that seeking to understand the motivations of an individual who introduced the hurt into our lives, gives us perspective and a new frame of reference through which to view the pain. We can be freed from the limiting beliefs that we are inextricably linked to our stories and that we are not only somehow at fault for what has happened to us, but that we ARE our stories.

When we realize that we are not our stories, that it is not our fault, we can experience the truest sense of spiritual and emotional freedom. Within the spaciousness of this newfound freedom, we become capable of writing our own endings.

How do we actually go about putting this understanding framework into action? Here are some powerful questions (from Rising Strong, Brené Brown) you might ask yourself or invite your students to ask themselves in conflict:

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  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation in terms of what I know and my assumptions?
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story in terms of information I’m missing and questions I might have?
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself in terms of my response, my feelings, and the part I play?

 

Sources:

*https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuroscience-story-gert-j-scholtz/

Brene Brown (Rising Strong/Braving the Wilderness)

Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)

Maya Angelou

Tony Robbins

Dr. Shimi Kang