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LEANING INTO A RESILIENT MINDSET

On the evening of Tuesday 21 July, as part of our Parent Education Series, clinical psychologist and past Woodleigh parent, Andrew Fuller, shared his expertise and wisdom with our school community by offering some inspiring ideas to help us and our children cope with trying times. As Andrew states, 

"We've been through a lot, and there's more to come."

Strengthening resilience in our students is a strategic priority at Woodleigh. It now is a time like no other to bring this into focus to inform our thoughts and actions, to help us move from stressed to steady by leaning into a 'Resilient Mindset.'

For those who may have missed it, I have taken this opportunity to share some of Andrew Fullers' writings and resources on the subject.

Resilient Youth Australia has used data collated from surveys of over 125,000 young people [in Australia] to help identify a cluster of factors that create a 'Resilient Mindset'. 

 The findings show that we can group students into three mindsets: 

1. The Anxious Mindset 

The anxious mindset is where students habitually freeze in the face of new challenges. Their arousal levels overwhelm and panic them, and they shy away from new experiences and opportunities for learning. Experiencing anxiety at these levels interferes with memory functioning and thinking. 

2. The Avoidant Mindset 

Students in this mindset are escapees from the demands of school. Habitually they respond to challenges with fight or flight. They may distract, question the validity of the work, get angry, distant, or incommunicative. These students may become disengaged and distracting to others. Their anxiety can influence other students and lower their motivation.

3. The Resilient Mindset 

The Resilient Mindset relates to how we see ourselves and how others view us as we attempt new tasks, make mistakes, and learn new skills. Shifting the appraisal of challenges that invoke anxious or avoidant responses into a Resilient Mindset requires a positive, trusting relationship between teacher and student. This is the art of excellent teaching: to reframe tasks, create support that overrides fear, develop a sense of success, and mastery is the basis of establishing a Resilient Mindset. 

The establishment of a Resilient Mindset increases engagement in learning, motivation, and academic success. It also relates to the factor that most predicts success in life and relationships: regulating emotions. 

To create Resilient Learners, we have to deal with the ability to form relationships. The Resilient Mindset enables students to approach challenges with greater confidence.

Anxious 

Resilient 


Avoidant 


Reluctant to attempt challenging tasks. 

Has a go and persists. 

Gives up easily, shuts down. 


Freezes in the face of challenges. Doesn't know where to start. Feels incapacitated. 

Gets stressed but resolves it through support (while there may be times of freeze or flight, the eventual strategy is tend, mend and befriend). 

Flight. When confronted with a challenge, avoids, procrastinates or distracts. 

Sees mistakes as personal failings. 

Sees mistakes as necessary to learning. 


Sees mistakes as not worth replicating. 

May blame self for difficulties. Feels ashamed and worries. 

Doesn't use blame / shame. 

May blame others for difficulties. Feels ashamed and avoids it. 

Energy is focused on pleasing people. 

Energy can shift appropriately. 


Energy is overly focused on escaping. 

Concentration is often focused on other people and their judgements. 

Concentration can flexibly shift between focused and diffuse; externally focused and internally reflective. 

Wary; vigilant. 

Sleep is often lessened through worry. 

Sleeps well. 


May sleep too long or be up playing computer games. 


Resilience fragile and dependent on social support. 

Resilience is robust enough to overcome challenges and upsets. Resilience is present in the absence of social approval. 

Resilience may appear good but be fragile in crises due to inability to rely on others. 

Decision making - seeks input from others, worries about what others might do. 

Decision making - can make independent decisions and can seek the input of others when useful. 

Overly self-reliant on making decisions alone. Reluctant to seek help from others. 


Feedback - seeks reassurance and may feel helpless. 


Feedback - seeks feedback in order to improve. 

Avoids feedback and may feel judged and threatened. 

ANDREW FULLER: IDEAS FOR MOVING FROM STRESSED TO STRONG

Preventing Powerlessness

Avoidance is not serving anyone well right now. Part of your power resides in taking stock of what you can control and letting go of what you can't control. Acknowledge that there are things that no one can be certain about (and then remind yourself that, isn't that always the case?) Don't try to be unrealistically optimistic or find appreciation and gratitude when you don't feel that way. Your power is in looking at the situation fair and square in the eye. Accept what is.

Process your body

Traumatic feelings live more in our bodies than they do in our minds.
Move at the speed of need. This will vary. Some days you will be full of pep and energy, other days you may resemble a sloth on long-service leave. Live at your rate.

Complete a body audit.
Where in your body do you feel secure? Where do you feel vulnerable? Where are you hurting? Listen to your body.

We hang on to trauma physically.
For example, if you had ever had a time in your life when you rapidly gained weight, it is worth considering if it was also a time when you had some traumatic feelings.

While therapy with a skilled mental health professional undoubtedly helps, there is also a lot you can do to process the issues. These include dancing, singing, swimming, surfing, skating, stretching, beating a drum, going for a walk, tai chi, and yoga.

PREVENTING HOPELESSNESS

Turn down the volume dilute your stressors.
Repeatedly exposing yourself to negative news and conversations can be traumatising. Have at least some time each week when you access positive news and discoveries.

Know your enemy but don't be defined by them
Enemies, whether they are challenging times or specific people, can teach us a lot. Look at the lessons you can take from this. They may be about taking better care of yourself, but they may also be lessons you learn about yourself.

Plan to increase your immunity and your wellbeing 
In times like these, it is easy to see how people can lessen their wellbeing. Will you come out of these times as a chunk, hunk, spunk, or drunk? Be counter-wise. Sleeping well, eating well, laughing well, moving well, and linking well with others go a long way to keeping your wellbeing humming along.

As much as possible, do something each day that you would typically do if you were feeling hopeful and calm.

You can't build on what is broken.
Find your strengths and the strengths of others. Completing the life map in my book Your Best Life at Any Age is one way to begin to reflect on these and use them to create resilience at different life stages. Completing the analysis at www.mylearningstrengths.com may also be of benefit.

Create Beauty
Beauty is an antidote to hopelessness. It lurks in the small details of life: the smile from a stranger, the wag of a dog's tail, or sunny morning. Search for these details and also intentionally create more beauty in your world for others to discover. Cherish what you can.

PREVENTING HELPLESSNESS

It has been a hard year, but let's not make it any harder than it needs to be. We tend to tell ourselves one story and make all the facts confirm that position.

Is there a more important story we can use?

For example, are we seeing around us examples of great caring and bravery when people co-operate rather than in conflict with each other? Have we beaten enemies and challenges in the past? Can we beat them again? Our history is full of awful times – holocaust, tsunami, pandemics, wars – that people can live through and recover.

If we just obsess on what is dreadful, it can be hard to shake off. Even worse, we can become compliant victims rather than actively contributing to a better world. Be a gatherer of possibilities rather than a passive acceptor of dire outcomes.

It can be useful to think about and plan for different horizons: three months, six months, 12 months, and maybe even five years.

The fine art of time travel
Time travel – what would you like to say looking back on this in five years?

Connect, protect, and respect.
Kindness and love are our oldest medicines and our best protective mechanisms. Add to this hope and connectedness, and we have the four most potent ingredients of healing. When we develop these in families and communities, we enrich lives.

Each ingredient alone may not cure a case of the flu or a virus. Together, they will help you resist disease, lower stress, lower blood pressure, avoid a heart attack, protect against depression, increase academic results & longevity, and help you live a happier life.

©Andrew Fuller

Acknowledgements & further reading

https://theparentswebsite.com.au/column/andrew-fuller/

https://www.overnewton.vic.edu.au/data/img/whispers/v31-9/The+Resilient+Mindset.pdf

DONNA NAIRN
Director of Counselling