2017 Principal's Blog_June

Living with uncertainty and finding self-compassion…There is a lot to said about the increasing levels of anxiety that I have noted in my previous blogs and the level of uncertainty that we are forced to live with in a world where the media and society dictates expectations that may actually be unrealistic, or at least are a false representation of reality in terms of what the individual might need.

There always has been and always will be a level of uncertainty in life. It is so hard for our students to contemplate their future career pathway in a world that is constantly changing. They want to set academic, personal and career goals to work towards, but the “goal posts” keep moving. I believe that level of uncertainty has led to anxiety at unforeseen levels in young people...and many older people today. The world has so few certainties for us to rely on; it demands that we are flexible, agile and adaptable, all of which are important but we need to balance such attributes with resilience, self-confidence and self-compassion in order to succeed.

I attended a Mindfulness workshop for Principal’s last week where the presenter shared some interesting facts which revealed something more around this question of uncertainty and anxiety, particularly around the neurological aspects. She talked about how, in our world of multi-tasking and multiple pressures, we become addicted to action. This struck a chord with me.

Apparently, our bodies release dopamine when we feel like we’ve achieved something. It makes us feel good, we feel like we are on top of things and it is where we get that sense of achievement. This, of course, is a good thing... but in a world that demands action all the time we are responding constantly to what is going on around us and what we find is that we become addicted to that dopamine release. It makes us want to check our phones constantly...just in case someone has sent a message, or an email. We check social media, for the same reason, to feel that we are on top of things and in control of a world with so many uncertainties.

The result of this addiction to action we find that we are never actually able to relax and reflect. Do you ever find even on weekends when you are “allowed” to relax, that you still need to be constantly “getting something done”...or is it just me?

This is where I think Mindfulness has really come to the fore recently. Interestingly, it is now been proven through research that multi-tasking actually makes us far less efficient and less effective in our work. Our addiction to action and our “need” to multi-task also means that we tend to be far less “present” in a conversation that we may be having with a friend a family member or a colleague. Our mind is always wandering on to the next thing we need to do.

So what can we do to break our addiction to action and allow ourselves permission to relax regularly and rejuvenate mentally and emotionally?  The presenter at the Mindfulness workshop talked about the need for us to have self-compassion. This goes right back to our reptilian brain and the fight or flight response. Although we are often very good at supporting friends through hard times (because we are naturally caring and compassionate), we are not very good at being caring towards ourselves as we face the daily challenges that life brings. We shift to our fight mentality and actually fight ourselves...substituting feelings of guilt about what we should have done or what we should be doing rather than forgiving and being compassionate towards ourselves and accepting that we can make mistakes. Why are we constantly criticising and putting ourselves down and looking for ways of negating the good things that we do rather than celebrating and being joyful “in the moment”.

An article by Kristen Neff was recommended reading from the mindfulness session. Here is an interesting section from it:

Many people in our culture have misgivings about the idea of self-compassion, perhaps because they don’t really know what it looks like, much less how to practice it. Often the practice of self-compassion is identified with the practice of mindfulness, now as ubiquitous as sushi in the West. But while mindfulness—with its emphasis on being experientially open to and aware of our own suffering without being caught up in it and swept away by aversive reactivity—is necessary for self-compassion, it leaves out an essential ingredient. What distinguishes self-compassion is that it goes beyond accepting our experience as it is and adds something more—embracing the experiencer(i.e., ourselves) with warmth and tenderness when our experience is painful.

Self-compassion also includes an element of wisdom—recognition of our common humanity. This means accepting the fact that, along with everyone else on the planet, we’re flawed and imperfect individuals, just as likely as anyone else to be hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous (but perfectly normal) misfortune. This sounds obvious, but it’s funny how easily we forget. We fall into the trap of believing that things are “supposed” to go well and that when we make a mistake or some difficulty comes along, something must have gone terribly wrong. (Uh, excuse me. There must be some error. I signed up for the everything-will-go-swimmingly-until-the-day-I-die plan. Can I speak to the management please?) The feeling that certain things “shouldn’t” be happening makes us feel both shamed and isolated. At those times, remembering that we aren’t really alone in our suffering—that hardship and struggle are deeply embedded in the human condition—can make a radical difference.”

(See the full article at: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion)

I wonder how we can teach our children to practice self-compassion? To forgive themselves when they inevitably get it wrong and pick themselves up when they need to, in order to be resilient, happy and successful in life. Surely the message starts at home and at school and in my opinion, is critical to wellbeing for all of us!

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts via our school email.

Stephanie McConnell