“Cause we’re all searching for the Holy Grail.....!”

Soon after I started studying Positive Psychology I had the opportunity to hear Martin Seligman (considered the founding father of Positive Psychology) speak.  He started by asking the room of about 300 to think about what we most hoped for our children or other loved ones.  He then asked us to raise our hands if “happiness” was at the top of the list.  A sea of hands went up!  This seems to be the holy grail......

But what does that look like, what’s involved?  How can we help our kids find lasting happiness?

I don’t think there’s a foolproof plan, but I’m excited about the new study of Strengths based parenting which focuses on looking first for what’s going well rather than following our natural human tendency to rush to fix weaknesses. 

We all tend to notice problems faster than we spot what’s going well

When we were cavemen this was extremely useful as a survival tool, but it doesn’t serve us as well in today’s world.  For example, I confess that in the past I’ve read my child’s school report and honed in quickly on the 20% that could be improved rather than celebrating the good comments and grades.  This term I’ll try to focus first on the great stuff to highlight to my daughters what they’re capable of and to build optimism that effort is worth it. 

So, why give Strengths based parenting a go?

Recent studies show that children and adolescents who have strength based parents:

  • Have higher levels of life satisfaction
  • Have a better understanding of their own strengths
  • Cope with conflict in more pro-active ways
  • Use their strengths to help them meet homework deadlines
  • Have lower levels of stress

These are practical outcomes which help create flourishing, high functioning families.

Strengths based parenting involves deliberately identifying and cultivating strengths in our children

It’s about connecting our kids with their inborn strengths such as strengths of character (eg. humour, kindness) as well as their talents such as writing or sporting ability.

flourishing mothers strengths based parenting

To do this we can start with simply keeping our eyes open for the strengths in our kids.  We can train our minds to look out for the moments when our kids are awesome and work out what strengths are being used.  For example, imagine your child asks to take a piece of cake home for their sister from a party; you might be seeing their strength of kindness or fairness in action. 

As we become familiar with strengths we can start talking to our kids about them and let them know that we recognise and appreciate their best qualities.  This is what helps our children flourish.  If you’d like to learn more about character strengths the VIA Institute on Character is a terrific place to start.  http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths

But wait there’s more!

Making an effort to focus on the strengths of our children can also improve our own life satisfaction and confidence in our parenting skills!  The research also shows that parents who completed a course in strengths based parenting reported they were finding parenting more interesting and felt more confident in their role as a parent. They also experienced more positive emotions towards their children.  It all makes a pretty compelling case!

We’ve been inspired by the work of Dr Lea Waters and the stories of parents who are trying to be strengths based.  You can watch some parent stories here: http://www.the-strengths-exchange.com.au/parents.html 

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss how to get started with strengths based parenting and as this is a new and evolving field of study we’ll definitely tell you more about it in the future!

Best wishes

Flourishing Mothers

How to stop overreacting and start taking control in 12 seconds

Have you ever wished you could go back in time a few minutes and do-over your reaction to a situation?  Sometimes it would be fantastic to be able to press the rewind button!  We might then be able to respond calmly and thoughtfully, find the right words or action, and overall feel that we were being our best selves.

How we manage our own attention matters

In recent weeks we’ve been running workshops focused on building resilience and wellbeing, discussing these topics with corporate women, a group of teenage mums and local school parents.  What’s really stood out is that how we manage our own attention matters!  If we can create some mental space for ourselves we can better focus on the moment and react in a more thoughtful and deliberate way.  This focus on the present allows us to:

  • Notice our emotions and the story we’re telling ourselves about the situation
  • Re-frame the story to be more helpful to us
  • Choose how we want to respond
  • Help those around us to do the same

Imagine that you’re working from home, trying to meet a 5pm deadline when a fight erupts between your kids that’s just impossible to ignore.  You might well storm into the room and start yelling, which then likely escalates the situation, adds more to your stress, and makes that deadline harder to meet. 

Creating mental space doesn’t take long but can have a huge impact

What if instead you’d been able to take a moment to assess the situation and plan your reaction and words to the kids?  Stern discipline might be needed but making a deliberate decision to issue a punishment feels more empowering than an emotional reaction. 

4 ways to create mental space

So how can we do it?  Different strategies will work for different people and different situations so here are a few ideas:

  1. Learn to do a rapid reset – you can focus on counting your breaths and deliberately slow your breathing in just 12 seconds.  You could also step outside for a moment and grab a few breaths of fresh air.
  2. Can you relish the chaos? – can you look at the situation and see the funny side?  Our lives are often crazy and messy but there’s fun, humour and inspiration that can be spotted in the chaos.
  3. Find your focus – when we’re stressed our minds are racing and it’s harder to make decisions.  If we can slow our brainwaves and focus on the immediate problem we’ll perform better.
  4. Remain in the present – remind yourself to come back to the present moment.  Try to avoid being distracted by thoughts of what could have been, or worry about the future.  Right now the present is where you can make an impact!

And please remember to be kind to yourselves!  Even with plan and practice our good intentions can get derailed, but we can keep on trying to reduce the number of “re-wind” moments.

With love

Flourishing Mothers

PS.  We’d love to hear your ideas about how to create mental space too!  Please offer your thoughts below.

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Stressed out? Toughen up! (by easing up)

Wouldn’t it be liberating to discover we can toughen up in our lives and at work by easing up on ourselves? This idea may be completely at odds with our current interpretations of resilience.  We’ve heard resilience is about toughing it out, flexing our muscles, ginning and bearing it, faking it till we make it, getting down and dirty, no pain no gain, going one more round….and the clichés go on!

But think for a moment what you experience when you try these approaches. Are you more emotionally volatile, less able to think clearly and find it impossible to wind down? Do you get impatient with the kids? Or try to sleep but end up tossing and turning? Getting less done, not more? In truth, toughing it out leads us to stress, overwhelm and burnout. Possibly feeling like you are on the hamster-wheel of life and not enjoying it!

Here’s the issue with this approach. We never recover. Overwork and exhaustion are the opposite of resilience. It’s the lack of recovery which holds back our resilience.

Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure

The good news is that resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. The key to resilience is trying hard, then stopping, recovering, then trying again. We recover by taking short physical and mental breaks. By “oscillating” our energy between work and recovery, we restore our equilibrium – and our brain’s ability to function efficiently, and sustain our wellbeing.

Rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering. What we need is periods of low cognitive (thinking) activity. When our brains are not full of information or pre-occupied with to do lists. When we are not on Facebook, Instagram, or reading articles on our phones.

How to recharge in short-sharp bursts

So, what’s the best way to recover then? For us busy mums, we need to find ways to restore ourselves as part of our normal routine – rather than making it one more thing to find time for. Here are some ideas. We challenge you to choose at least one of these to incorporate into your day!

  • Every 20 minutes, take a 2-minute break. Stand up, stretch, or a quick walk around the office (and will improve, not slow your productivity). Use an app like Mindfulness Bell, which plays a gentle bell regularly to remind you
  • Switch tasks or projects at work at least every 90 minutes – varying activities uses different parts of your brain. Take at least a 5-minute break between activities. Work from home? -Hang out the washing or collect the mail. At the office? -Head to the water cooler for a leg stretch and chat
  • 5 minutes outside will boost your mood. Even better take a walk with someone around the block. By “taking your brain for a walk” you also increase your ability to retain information and think creatively
  • Take a mid-day break of at least 30 minutes every day. Do not have lunch at your desk. Have it with a friend or colleague, or go outside and look at some greenery while you eat
  • Find your Zen – this doesn’t need to be a long and involved process! Apps like Breethe have 10-minute guided meditations. The 7 Second Meditation app helps you take just moments of mindfulness and breath (surely, we can find 7 seconds?!)
  • Take a break by calling a family member or friend
  • Take the stairs at work instead of the lift (and don’t look at your phone!)
  • Schedule time daily unplugged from your smartphone! Apps like Unplugged can help you automate this if your willpower is low!

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Resilience is like a muscle that we can strengthen

The truth is, we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we take short breaks from it and build our resilience to cope with it. Resilience is like a muscle that we can strengthen. But like any muscle, to grow it must be used, then given time off to heal. By taking short but regular mental breaks during the day we recover, ready for our next tasks. We’re more efficient, enjoy our work more, and have more energy for our lives at home too. Remember, life is not a marathon, but a series of sprints!

With love

Flourishing Mothers

Flourishing Mothers were inspired by the work of Sean Achor, Tom Rath and Jim Loehr